Monday, June 17, 2013

Enslaved in the USA: Testimony of a Child's Survival

At a recent U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing, Chairman Senator Baucus declared child trafficking a form of slavery that "exists right here in America" and is "quickly becoming one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world."

"At least 100,000 children are exploited every year in the United States ... and most victims are between just 12 and 14 years old," said the senator. The senator also stated that because many Child Protective Service (CPS) workers are unfamiliar with human trafficking laws and "don't know how to handle cases involving trafficked children ... sex trafficking victims are often arrested and placed in juvenile detention facilities," and treated like criminals.

The senator's words echoed the experience of sex trafficking survivor and FAIR Girls Maryland Program Coordinator Asia Graves. Her story is a tragically common illustration of how the cycle of abuse continues until someone recognizes the warning signs and takes steps to stop it.

Asia's mother was a crack-cocaine addict and abuse victim herself, and her father was an alcoholic. Asia testified before the Senate committee that:

80 to 90% of victims of trafficking [victims] have been sexually abused. That is my story, too. I was raped [by] my mother’s drug dealers from the ages of 6 to 10 years old, which made me vulnerable to trafficking. I went to school and told my teachers as well as a school social worker who just believed that I was making it up. I stopped asking for help. My life as an American victim of modern day slavery could have been prevented. [T]he teachers and social workers who met me did not see the warning signs. By the time my pimp sold me, I was isolated and scared, which is exactly what most girls feel as they fall victim.

Enslaved at 16, a series of pimps sold her for sex all over America. She finally escaped three years later, and subsequently rebuilt her life with the help of a strong team of women leaders. "I hope someday to be a lawyer," she testified, "and take my past and use my work at FAIR Girls to truly ensure fewer girls fall victim to sex trafficking."

Asia recommends funding to open specialized homes for human trafficking victims, education for social workers and teachers to recognize and report trafficking red flags, and education for high risk youth inside the child welfare system to learn how to stay safe.

Congress has introduced legislation (SB 1118) to address child trafficking by, among other things, requiring state child welfare agencies to immediately report missing or abducted children to law enforcement.

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