Next month I’ll be speaking at a national symposium on human trafficking.
The organizers asked participants to come up with a list of topics to discuss that are related to the prevention of child trafficking in the United States.
So I pulled out my pen, and I drifted back to that first day in July of 1992. And then I mentally back-tracked my way through the years leading up to this day in which I was trafficked at the age of fourteen.
As I met each curve in the road of my youth, I wrote down a topic: bullying, peer pressure, lack of guidance, etc. On and on I passed each turn until I reached that fork in the road which many victims of trafficking have buried in their pasts: childhood sexual abuse.
I listened to a Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) seminar recently given by Kate Price, M.A. on March 15th, 2012. It was entitled, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience in U.S. Prostituted Children.
Price stated that “as (she) did more and more work with prostituted children…(she realized) it really was that history of betrayal…that really was the risk, and oftentimes the entry way, into how children ended up in prostitution.”
This betrayal is often the driving force behind all the twists and turns in a trafficked child’s history. In fact, a trafficker will seek out a child with this type of abuse in his or her past because the child is easier to manipulate. Without proper counseling, a child who has suffered from sexual abuse is unlikely to recognize that he or she is being sexually exploited.
Many people will shrug this off, stating that childhood sexual abuse is so rare that it’s not a cause for concern.
In her seminar, Price quoted that a common statistic for childhood sexual abuse is that 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys, have suffered from sexual abuse. She goes on to report that “at least 60% of sexually exploited children confirmed that they had been sexually abused as children.” She immediately followed this up by stating “that number is probably pretty low.”
I agree with her.
Consider how long it took the victims of Jerry Sandusky to come forward in the Penn State Sex Abuse scandal.
From experience, I can tell you that a sex-trafficked child is reluctant to report a history of child abuse. In fact, a sex-trafficked child is unlikely to cooperate with authorities at all because of their common history of abuse, exploitation, and betrayal. I know I did. I refused to cooperate with police, social service providers, teachers, or family members.
My point? I guess my point is that the first, and most important topic in preventing trafficking, is to identify and counsel children who have suffered from childhood sexual abuse. When I confessed the abuse to a social worker at my school, I was immediately told that social services had to confront my family. Coming from a family who prohibited the airing of any dirty laundry, I was overwhelmed with panic and a sense of betrayal. I recanted the confession and never received any counseling.
I was 10 or 11 years old. I thought I had done something wrong. And then I became angry, very angry.
I’d like to pose this question as a discussion topic:
If a child is no longer actively being abused and the abuser is removed from the household, could the child then confide in a teacher and receive counseling without having to inform the family?
In the video above, a member of Child Refuge explains what to do if a child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused.