Residential Programs for America's Child Sex Trafficking Victims Secure or Non-Secure Facilities?

Secure residential programs for children who have not committed a crime and are victims of sex trafficking is a violation of a child's civil rights and it is a battle that should not have to be fought on behalf of any group of children in America.
07/09/2013 10:46 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2013

The arguments supporting secure residential facilities for America' child sex trafficking victims parallel the same arguments for "locking up" teen girls in the '60s -- "they will be sexually exploited if we don't secure them -- we are doing it for their own good." In the '60s, teen girls were locked in juvenile facilities as "incorrigibles" -- incorrigible for a girl translated to "sexually active."

In the '80s, traditional social service agencies and their social workers refused to accept prostituted children in their system of care -- even 12-year-olds were denied access to foster homes and group homes.

Analogous to the child welfare system was the juvenile justice system and their courts who refused to accept jurisdiction of prostituted children. They too denied these children residential placements provided by probation because the prostituted child's behavior did not warrant the expenditure of taxpaying dollars -- they were not committing crimes against property but only hurting themselves.

Some of the first children to "hit the streets" in the late '70s were 11-, 12- and 13-year-old transgender from male to female. The social workers responsible for these children labeled these children as fire starters because placements for fire starters were non-existent and the social worker was relieved from the duty of placing teen and preteen transgender children in foster homes or group homes.

Today, county social service agencies across our nation are scrambling to identify children in their care, "dependents of the court," who have fled foster homes and group homes. Some of these agencies have innovative programs tracking these children through Facebook and other social media only to hear that these children are not willing to return to residential care.

In California, children who have aged out of foster care are now offered monthly stipends to practically care for themselves until they are 21 or 22 years of age.

Life with a pimp/trafficker for many children is better than "life at home," foster care or residential group homes.

To address this problem, some child sex trafficking advocates have suggested secure facilities for America's child sex trafficking victims. Often times these advocates lack skills, credentials or experience in operating licensed residential programs for children. Because they are unable to design, operate and supervise good residential care and are challenged by non-compliant teens who will challenge their quality of service, they seek policies requiring "secure facilities" so they can force their "treatment modalities" on these desperate children. And in some instances forcing inferior standards of care on the child victim of sex trafficking.

Secure facilities for America's child sex trafficking victims force troubled children into a system of care that may be just as exploited as with a pimp/trafficker. There are countless women in America who continue to seek restitution from detention facilities for the sexual abuse by employees assigned to supervise them while in detention in the '60s and '70s -- some of these women were impregnated and have children fathered by detention employees.

Children forced into secure facilities stop growing and developing and when released they run from trauma of being "locked up" and rarely seek residential care again. When released from secure facilities the child assumes the stage of development at the time of initial detention and frequently runs to another pimp/trafficker.

While the do-gooder may feel good about the fact that the child attends school and receives medical care while in detention they ignore the running that occurs "after detention or secure placement." In fact, this phenomenon is rarely mentioned in their arguments for "secure facilities."

Law enforcement, both local and federal, have held up their end of the bargain in addressing America's child sex trafficking victim. Their frustration with social services has led them to rely on "material witness holds" to secure children for testimony against a pimp/trafficker because social service providers have failed the child sex trafficking victim.

Federal funding to rescue children from sex trafficking is primarily dedicated to law enforcement, investigative support and/or support of the prosecution. Rarely is there enough funds to pay for the critical long term treatment of the child sex trafficking victim; consequently, the child returns to a pimp/trafficker who pays more attention to them than any responsible adult caregiver. As a result, the child victim is blamed for their victimization and secure facilities are offered as a solution.

It is incomprehensible to "lock up" or provide "secure facilities" for victims of domestic violence although many of the victims are children and often victims of incest.

So then why do we talk about secure facilities for children who are victims of sex trafficking?

Because "sex is at issue" in their victimization -- the same reason teen girls were "locked up" in the '60s and denied services in the '80s.

Child sex trafficking is not the first social issue to create moral panic around physical and sexual abuse. In the '80s, hysteria about Satanic Ritual Abuse garnered self-proclaimed experts, national media attention, law enforcement mobilizations, federal funding, excitement and hysteria. By the '90s official investigations produced no evidence of widespread conspiracies and only a small number of crimes were verified.

Secure residential programs for children who have not committed a crime and are victims of sex trafficking is a violation of a child's civil rights and it is a battle that should not have to be fought on behalf of any group of children in America.

The civil rights of America's children who have been sex trafficked has largely been unchecked because government, law enforcement and self-proclaimed sex trafficking experts have largely ignored boys and transgender youth in their vigilance to rescue America's children who are sex trafficked.