How prevalent is the problem?
• On its website, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the primary source for criminal justice statistics in the United States, reported that a total of 2,515 suspected trafficking cases were investigated between January 2008 and June 2010. Forty percent of these involved sexual exploitation of children and 48 percent involved allegations of adult prostitution. But these are only cases that were investigated.
• The National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation estimates that 325,000 children per year are at risk of becoming victims of commercial child sexual exploitation.
• The CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that it receives an average of 4,296 reports of child sexual exploitation each week, with approximately 95 percent of those reports about child pornography.
• The Department of Justice estimates the most frequent age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 12 to 14 years old.
Children who are exploited by sex traffickers often come from broken homes or are homeless. Seventy to 90 percent have a history of sexual abuse. Rather than finding help for these injustices, sexually exploited children only find more pain.
The Internet makes sexual exploitation of children easier for criminals to perpetrate and poses new challenges for law enforcement. In recent years, however, state and federal lawmakers, as well as the justice system, have introduced new ways of addressing the problem.
For example, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law the Illinois Safe Children’s Act in 2010, which “provides new protections to children caught up in the sex trade and gives law enforcement new tools to investigate and prosecute the criminal rings that prostitute juveniles,” according to Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez.
In California, Proposition 35, known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, will be on the ballot in November. The CASE Act would increase penalties for human traffickers and require all convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders.
In an address last April, Pope Benedict XVI decried the scourge of sexual exploitation, particularly in the context of tourism. “Sexual tourism is one of the most abject of these deviations that devastate morally, psychologically and physically the life of so many persons and families, and sometimes whole communities,” he said.
Putting an end to child sexual exploitation begins with awareness and education. The National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation has issued a national plan to end this problem. It also addresses what individuals and communities can do to prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation. For a copy of the national plan, go to www.preventtogether.org.
To learn what religious communities can do to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation of children, visit the Street GRACE website, streetgrace.org.