Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Man Sells Foster Daughter Into Prostitution

**This is a case from Maryland, but I wanted to repost this blog entry by Amanda Kloer to highlight an issue that often gets overlooked in our overburdened foster care system. When I worked in New York, I ran into a couple cases of this as well, so this is not a fluke occurance. We need to keep our eyes open to identify these cases even in the homes of people we assume are there to care for the children.

by Amanda Kloer

Published October 26, 2009 @ 01:24PM PT

Pimps can be strangers to their child victims, but they are often someone the victim trusts, like a boyfriend, a parent, or a family member. In a case out of Maryland recently, Shelby Lewis sold his 12-year-old foster daughter, along with three other girls, into prostitution -- the price of the "rent" he charged them for living in his home. This case is an excellent case study of what domestic minor sex trafficking looks like in the U.S., since it has a number of very common factors present.

First, the victim was a part of the foster care system. It's common for American girls who are eventually trafficked by pimps to have been in foster care at one point in their lives. The connection between foster care and trafficking is due to both the vulnerability of young people without stable homes and the dysfunction of many foster care systems in the U.S.
Second, the pimp was someone the victim knew as a protector. While pimps can be strangers, they often approach victims first as boyfriends, friends, stepfathers, family members, etc. They groom the victim to rely on them and then claim, as Lewis did, that the cost of their protection and love is prostitution.

Third, the victims started in their early teens. Lewis first began pimping his foster daughter out when she was 12. He also sold three other girls, who he began exploiting at 13, 14, and 16. The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 in the U.S., so the ages of the victims in this case are typical.

Fourth, one of his victims was registered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It's not unusual for children who are reported missing, either as runaways or as kidnapping victims, end up in the hands of pimps like Lewis.

Lastly, child pornography makes an appearance in this case, as it does in many others. Lewis had pictures of his victims tied to beds in sexual poses at his apartment. Pimps can earn money by selling pornographic images of the girls they exploit in addition to selling the girls themselves.

While one of these factors might not be present in all cases of domestic minor sex trafficking, they are certainly present in a number of them. This case is an example of how the issue of child trafficking in the U.S. is deeply connected to the need for reform of the foster care system and better education for girls. The questions this case begs are much broader than just those related to human trafficking: Why are foster youths so susceptible to trafficking? Why are men buying girls so young for sex? It's a reminder that we must always view trafficking within the context of social issues pimps utilize to help them traffic girls.

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