Sunday, September 30, 2007

"I don't want to do this anymore."

I accompanied the police on an "innocence lost" sweep last week. They were looking for commercially sexually exploited kids, not to arrest them, but to help them, and I was riding along to do some local research. It only took us ten minutes of driving through "the tracks" to come across a young-looking local girl. She claimed to be eighteen, though she was obviously younger. She wasn't dressed or acting in any particularly obvious manner, in fact her dress was rather plain and conservative, and her manner was calm, scared, child-like. When we approached her, she was with another young woman and they were talking to a middle-aged man in a truck in the parking lot of a motel, likely the "john". He had a few drinks so the cops cuffed him for a little while then sent him home in a cab.

What struck me about this girl is that she was still very new to "the life". She had run away from the residential shelter she was placed in to remove her from a home with an abusive father. It had been three weeks, but I'm sure it only took about a week of living desperately in the streets to be recruited by a pimp. When we found her last week, she was seemingly being trained by the other young woman. The closer the police came to uncovering her real age, the more anxious she became. The worse fate, of all the possibilities, it seemed, was to be returned to her father, especially in this way. After some investigation, it was found that SHE WAS ONLY FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. As we spoke to her, the pain in her eyes was evident. "I don't want to get arrested," she said. "My father can't find out," she lamented. But when she said "I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE," with a voice laced with despair, I just wanted to scoop her up and rescue her from her pain. Who knows what abuse she was suffering at the hands of an exploitative pimp. I searched my brain desperately for options, but was at a loss. There is no solution here yet to the problem of commercially sexually exploitated children.

We are just begining to make needed changes here in Miami and to build on the momentum created by other national and international initiatives. Kristi House is taking the lead and partnering with Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in New York City to replicate their best practices in engaging and helping victims of CSEC. I am proud to say that a coalition of service providers and law enforcement agencies has just been formed to address the needs of commercially sexually exploited children locally. We will work tirelessley to ensure that any child being exploited in sex industry; forced into street prostitution, dancing in our so-called "adult entertainment clubs" or being sold on Internet forums such as Craig's List will find the help and support they need to escape and stay safe. And next time we hear a fourteen-year-old tell us "I don't want to do this anymore", we will be able to reply, "well, here are your options."

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