While the trafficking of young girls may seem like a problem that does not happen in the United States, it does—as D. Parvaz reports for Al Jazeera America. The sex trafficking of minors is a problem with a scope that reaches much farther than we can imagine. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at least 100,000 children are trafficked for sex every year. Trafficking is a lucrative business and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, worth $32 billion a year worldwide. While this issue itself is startling, the way underage prostitutes are treated within the criminal justice system is even more shocking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice more than 1,000 children are arrested every year for prostitution although they may not be legally old enough to consent.
According to Fair Girls, an anti-trafficking organization, 70 to 75 percent of the girls they assisted were in the foster care system. In fact many pimps look for children who come from unstable family backgrounds or bad neighborhoods. Al Jazeera America interviewed Special Agent Renea Green of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who stated, “We had a trafficker tell us he looked for victims, for girls, walking from the local DFAC [Department of Family and Children Services] office.”
While legislation that focuses on charging buyers (or johns) and pimps continues to be passed, there continue to be cases, like the one in Eatonton, Georgia, where a 14-year-old girl was charged with prostitution. This puts an already abused and disadvantaged child into the juvenile justice system, which tends to alter their life forever. While Safe Harbor Laws (which criminalize adults who purchase sex with a minor) have been passed in 34 states, according to the Polaris Project these laws tend to vary widely from state to state, leaving many girls treated as criminals rather than victims.
Source: D. Parvaz, “Selling American Girls,” Al Jazeera America, December 15, 2015, http://projects.aljazeera.com/2015/12/sex-trafficking/.
Student Researcher: Vanessa Anderson (University of Vermont)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)