Today the National Center for Youth Law released a new report, Ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in California.
Report author Kate Walker, an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Attorney at the Center, commented that "Every day, the unthinkable happens: thousands of America's children are coerced into performing sex for hire. Exploitation can start as young as age ten. Some exploited children are brutally beaten and raped. Others are isolated, drugged, and starved until they become "willing" participants. Yet, these children are regularly arrested and held in juvenile detention facilities even though they are victims of crime."
Worldwide, human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, involving 100,000 children in the U.S. The FBI has determined that three of the nation's thirteen High Intensity Child Prostitution areas are located in California.
Studies estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) are or were formally involved with the child welfare system. "We all need to come together to reinvent the way we respond to this problem," said Patrick Gardner, President of Young Minds Advocacy Project. "This report is a first step."
Four of the report's key recommendations highlight the urgent need for:
- Safe, secure and specialized homes for exploited children and children at risk
- New screening tools to help professionals working with children identify both victims and children at risk
- Special training for "child serving" professionals and systems to identify and support vulnerable individuals
- Increased data collection and information sharing to promote collaboration across systems and raise public awareness
"Rather than criminalizing these children and funneling them into the juvenile justice system, California's child welfare system, which is designed to protect and serve children and families who experience abuse and neglect, is the more appropriate system to support exploited children," said Walker.
"We know from our daily work that the level of system coordination required to address the emotional trauma, constant physical danger and coercive techniques used by traffickers does not yet exist in California," said Stacey Katz, Executive Director of WestCoast Children's Clinic, an agency that serves over 100 commercially sexually exploited children per year in Alameda County, California.
Katz states, "The traffickers benefit directly from these system gaps. Until the agencies responsible for serving and protecting young people come together, we will continue to see youth who are severely traumatized and whose lives are in danger. We can do better by these youth-this is not an issue of resources. It's an issue of will."
According to Leslie Heimov, Executive Director of Children's Law Center of California, "the more we learn about child sex trafficking, the clearer it becomes that we are facing a national crisis. Without safe placements, access to highly trained therapists and other experts, we are powerless to stop the brutalization and re-victimization of the youth the child welfare system seeks to protect."
For more information about this report and its recommendations, contact:
Young Minds Advocacy Project (YMAP) Patrick Gardner, J.D. President 650.494.4930 Patrick@youngmindsadvocacy.org
National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) Oakland, California Kate Walker, Attorney & Equal Justice Works Fellow 510.835.8098 x 3050 Kwalker@youthlaw.org
WestCoast Children's Clinic Oakland, California Jodie Langs, Director of Policy & Communications 510.452.7400 Jlangs@westcoastcc.org
Children's Law Center of California Los Angeles & Sacramento, California Leslie Heimov, Executive Director 323.980.5762 Heimovl@clccal.org