“When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists—that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”
– President Barack Obama speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, NY, September 25, 2012.
The Prostitution of Children
Federal law prohibits the prostitution of children, both with respect to individuals who offer children for sex in exchange for money or other considerations, and with respect to individuals who would pay to have sex with a child. Those who sell children for sex are commonly referred to as traffickers or “pimps,” while the purchasers or customers are commonly known as “johns.”
Children involved in this form of commercial sexual exploitation are victims. Under federal law, children cannot consent to being prostituted.
A number of different phrases are used to describe the prostitution of children, including sex trafficking, a severe form of human trafficking, or the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Whatever the name, the dynamic is the same: the sale of children for sex. Sex trafficking is a lucrative industry, and criminals sell children just as they would traffic drugs or other illegal substances. The prostitution of children is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face severe statutory penalties. (For more information, see Citizen's Guide to Federal Law on the Prostitution of Children).
The Prostitution of Children in the United States
Under federal law, a child does not need to be moved across international or even state borders to be considered a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, children throughout the United States are falling victim to this crime.
Pimps and traffickers sexually exploit children through street prostitution, in adult strip clubs, brothels, sex parties, motel rooms, hotel rooms, and other locations throughout the United States. Many recovered American victims are runaways or throwaway youth who often suffer from a history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and family abandonment issues. This population is seen as an easy target by pimps because the children are generally vulnerable, without dependable guardians, and suffer from low self-esteem. Child victims of prostitution come from all backgrounds in terms of class, race, and geography (i.e. urban, suburban, and rural settings).
Often in domestic sex trafficking situations, a pimp will cause a child victim to feel dependent on him for life necessities and survival. For example, a pimp will lure a child with food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to stay. After cultivating a relationship and engendering a false sense of trust with the child, the pimp will begin engaging the child in prostitution. It is also common for pimps to isolate victims by moving them far away from friends and family, altering their physical appearances, or continuously moving victims to new locations. In many cases, the pimps are so adept at controlling and manipulating the victims that they are incapable of leaving the situation on their own.
Technological advances, in particular the internet, have facilitated the commercial sexual exploitation of children by providing a convenient worldwide marketing channel. Individuals can now use websites to advertise, schedule, and purchase sexual encounters with minors. The internet and web-enabled cell phones also allow pimps and traffickers to expand their clientele base, which may expose victims to greater risks and dangers.
International Sex Trafficking of Minors
Another form of sex trafficking involves situations where traffickers recruit and transfer children across international borders in order to sexually exploit them in another country. The traffickers can be individuals working alone, organized crime groups, enterprises, or networks of criminals working together to traffic children into prostitution across country lines.
This form of sex trafficking is a problem in the United States. Recovered victims originate from all over the world, including less developed areas, such as South and Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America, to more developed areas, such as Western Europe. Once in the United States, a child may be trafficked to any or multiple states within the country. These victims are often moved far from home and thrown into unfamiliar locations and culture. The traffickers may confiscate their passport or other identification documents to prevent them from escaping. Alternatively, the victims may be given false passports or other false documentation to conceal their age and true identity. They may also struggle with the English language, and have a fear or distrust of law enforcement. All of these factors can make it extremely difficult for foreign child victims of sex trafficking to come forward to law enforcement.
Child Victims of Prostitution
Using the term prostitution in connection with children can confuse one’s understanding of this form of child sexual exploitation. The term itself implies the idea of choice, when in fact that is not the case. It is important to emphasize that the children involved are victims. Pimps and traffickers will prey upon children at their homes, in juvenile facilities, shelters and group homes. They manipulate children by using physical, emotional, and psychological abuse to keep them trapped in a life of prostitution. Some traffickers will get their victims addicted to drugs and alcohol in order to maintain control. And, it is not uncommon for traffickers to beat, rape or torture their victims.
As a result of being prostituted, child victims suffer from serious physical ailments, including sexually transmissible infections, tuberculosis, drug addition, malnutrition, and physical injuries resulting from violence inflicted upon them. Children may also experience severe short- and long-term psychological effects such as depression, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness.
However, these victims are extremely resilient. Simply acknowledging that they are a victim is the first step towards the path to recovery. And, with the proper services and supports, the child can begin the healing process and learn to trust again. While the recovery process varies for each child, given the right treatment and follow-up, many of these children will go on to lead healthy successful lives.
CEOS attorneys work with the High Technology Investigative Unit (HTIU), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Attorney´s Offices around the country, and other federal, state and local entities to investigate and prosecute cases arising under federal statutes prohibiting the prostitution of children. CEOS works to not only punish and jail offenders, but to protect the rights and welfare of the children involved.
In addition, CEOS maintains a coordinated, national-level law enforcement focus, and helps coordinate nationwide and international investigations and initiatives. CEOS attorneys travel all over the world to conduct trainings for investigators, law enforcement personnel, and others involved in efforts to prosecute this crime. Moreover, CEOS designs, implements, and supports law enforcement strategies, legislative proposals, and policy initiatives relating to federal laws prohibiting the prostitution of children.
How You Can Help
If you have information about a child who might be involved in prostitution, contact your local FBI or law enforcement office, or submit a tip to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting BeFree (233733) or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678.