Friday, November 21, 2008

UNICEF highlights CSEC problem in the US

I feel somewhat vindicated. The public response to the commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking of American children has evolved a great deal in the past seven years. When I began focusing on this issue, the plight of American children being exploited was largely ignored. International trafficking was the hot issue drawing attention from young advocates, governmental agencies, and media outlets, money from funders and shock and horror from Joe the plumber. Studies were done; the UN was involved and most people understood, with a little education, that a victim of international human trafficking was, in fact, a victim.

Not so for the domestic victim of sex trafficking. Advocates for children who were being exploited in the sex trade here in America began to raise their voices, and after many long years, it appears that people are begining to recognize that these children are not delinquents who are committing crimes of prostitution willingly. They are in fact victims who are often manipulated and controlled by pimps and subject to great deals of violence on a daily basis. Many of the elements involved in prostitution that American girls find themselves in are the same for international victims, only we tend to see international victims as having no choice and no agency, while domestic victims choose this lifestyle. This ethnocentric and infantalizing view of foreign-born victims has been central to the formation of our policies and funding on this issue for many years. Domestic victims "choose" a life of violence and exploitation just as much as the international victims do. It's about time we began seeing that domestic victims of sex trafficking here in our own backyards are just as deserving of services, money and simple empathy as international victims.

I am happy to see that UNICEF, as an agency of the United Nations, recognizes that domestic sex trafficking of minors is a problem within the United States, and that the American government has been taking an increased interest in the issue over the last several years. I feel like all the hard work done by a relatively small group of advocates and survivors in a rapidly growing field is finally paying off. We have a long way to go, but this is a good sign of things to come.



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