Children’s commercial sex exploitation is not something new. The illegal act is otherwise recognized by laws of the United States as domestic minor sex trafficking usually abbreviated as DMST. It involves sexual exploitation of minors (victims under 18 years) for financial gain. The article explores the rapidly growing vice that now claims a significant share in the billion-dollar pornography industry. It outlines how DMST has spanned various angles of the social work practice and the legislative efforts made to address the needs of the victims. The victims are said to be traumatized due to factors like neglect and trauma. They are often coerced to engage in “survival sex” that involves trading sex for basic needs such as food and shelter. The exploitation involves performing in pornographic films, becoming an escort, working for pimps and being a sex slave for criminal groups among others. According to a past survey, a significant number of youths apprehended for prostitution were victims of organized businesses including websites, massage parlors, escort services, criminal gangs, and hotels. Many others did it voluntarily but were influenced or controlled by third parties (Roby & Vincent, 2017).
It’s difficult to tell the number of children involved in DMST despite the rising concern about the issue. The clandestine nature of the activities makes it difficult to recognize the victims. Researchers Finkelhor and Stransky concluded that there isn’t an exact number of victims although it could be estimated to be in between 1,400 to 2.4 million. Initially, reports by researchers Estes (2001) and Weiner (2005) indicated that the victims of DMST in the USA were around 100,000 children while another 300,000 were at risk. A top NGO called Shared Hope in 2015 also estimated the victims to be 100,000 without providing a source to back up their numbers. According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), one out of six of the 10,000 runaway children had a likelihood of becoming exploited for commercial sex. In the previous year, statistics indicated one in seven (Roby & Vincent, 2017)
The risk factors of DMST are also hard to determine. The average range for victims being pulled into the “business” is between 11 and 15 years, while some are even younger since controlling them is easier. Victims may come from various backgrounds, but the greatest risk factors are; high-crime neighborhoods, neglect or child abuse, the rise in internet use, running away from home, juvenile delinquency involvement, and dysfunctional family of origin. Several studies have indicated a strong relationship between victimization in DMST and earlier sexual abuse. Various macro factors such as the rise in demand for commercial sex and the profits from it propels the vice (Roby & Vincent, 2017).
Policies controlling DMST
The awakening of the 21st century saw the development of both federal and state laws to deal with DMST. The very first policy to address this issue was the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act implemented in the year 2000. This US federal legislation clearly separated the victims of DMST from the perpetrators. There were subsequent reauthorizations of the act in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013so as to explicitly address such cases. The other one was the Model State Anti-Trafficking Statute that was induced in 2004. The law mainly concentrated on the prosecution of perpetrators and a way for states to harmonize various criminal provisions associated with trafficking. Since this law ended up in many minor arrests, a model safe harbor law had to be made to protect them. Later on, in 2015, the JVTA was signed into law by the former president Obama. JVTA was an amendment of the Missing Children's Assistance Act and would replace “child prostitution” with child sex trafficking. The law would shield minors involved with commercial sex and view them as victims. It further adds penalties on perpetrators among other regulations and directions to strengthen protection of DMST victims. Child protection services or agencies and other stakeholders including multidisciplinary taskforce also coordinate to end the vice (Roby & Vincent, 2017).
The article is a clear depiction of the situation involving commercial sex exploitation of the minors and the laws relating to the crime. By shading light on the issue, it calls for more research to be done and aims to create awareness to the public including the youth and their parents while encouraging individuals and groups of goodwill to join hands and help the government in putting an end to domestic minor sex trafficking not only in the United States but globally. Finally, it calls for social workers to participate in the policy process and for them to advocate for child protection and social justice.
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