The vast majority of these children are American citizens who are just like the kids you see running around and playing in your hometown. I caught up with Katie Pedigo, executive director of Dallas-based nonprofit New Friends New Life, to find out more about this national epidemic, which occurs in our backyards at barely a whisper.
Pedigo is adamant that what we don't know as a nation can hurt us and our children. "Domestic sex trafficking is mostly in the shadows and hidden from view in brothels or on websites such as Craigslist and Backpage," she says. "This does not mean that we should adopt an out of sight, out of mind approach to the issue. That is exactly what traffickers want."
It is exceedingly difficult to obtain firm numbers on sex trafficking in the United States, thanks to the secretive nature of sexual exploitation. We know, however, that it is happening with alarming regularity. "The U.S. State Department estimates that 100,000 children in the U.S. enter prostitution every year," says Pedigo. Since these children aren't yet 18, they fall under the federal guidelines of trafficking.
Traffickers are opportunistic, and they prey on vulnerable children. "We know from the Dallas Police Department, for instance, that traffickers and pimps approach most runaway children and teens within 48 hours of turning to the street," Pedigo explains. Many of these kids ran away from home to escape abuse and neglect, only to be greeted with more of the same.
If you've ever seen a prostitute on a street corner, you were looking at a woman who was most likely trafficked into the industry when she was barely a teenager. "The average age an American girl enters the sex trade is just 13 years old," says Pedigo.
Between the ages of 13 and 18, child victims of sex trafficking will endure a heinous number of sexual violations. "We know from research that the average girl enters the industry at 13, and that she will experience statutory rape 10,000 times before she even comes of age," Pedigo explains.
Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, falling just behind the illegal drug trade. "Trafficking in persons is a $32 billion industry, and $28 billion of that total is attributed to forced commercial sexual exploitation," she concludes.
If you suspect trafficking in your community, or see anything that raises an alarm, please call the National Trafficking Hotline for help and guidance. Voiceless children and teens need our collective voice to speak up on their behalf.
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