Congressional Briefing on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
Remarks of Ernie Allen
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) Regarding the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act
President and CEO, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
March 16, 2011
Let me express our gratitude to Senator Wyden and Senator Cornyn for this timely legislation to help victims and awaken a nation. When Americans hear the term"domestic minor sex trafficking," they think it only happens somewhere else on the other side of the world, but it is happening every day in American cities to American kids.
We estimate that at least 100,000 kids are the victims of child prostitution and trafficking each year. However, we don't know with certainty how many victims there really are. We have a vast amount of anecdotal information from thousands of real cases, but estimating the size of this problem empirically is impossible. The operators of these illicit enterprises are not filing tax returns. Reporting is miniscule and arrest data are meaningless because there are so few arrests. In 2006 the FBI reported that 1,400 juveniles were arrested for prostitution. However, since 2003 we have trained police nationwide not to arrest the juvenile victim. In fact, five states have already enacted versions of the Safe Harbor Law requiring that these kids not be treated as offenders.
The primary basis for our estimate is University of Pennsylvania research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, there are caveats. First, the researchers reported that 293,000 US children are"at risk" of commercial child exploitation each year. Being at risk is different from actually becoming a victim. However, they also reported that the number of 10 -- 17 year olds involved in commercial sexual exploitation each year likely exceeds 250,000, with 60% being runaway, throwaway or homeless youth. The second caveat is that commercial sexual exploitation is broader than just child prostitution, but there is little doubt that the commercial sexual exploitation of runaway, throwaway and homeless youth is overwhelmingly prostitution -- 60% of 250,000 is 150,000.
Further, the Justice Department's National Incidence Study on Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Youth (NISMART II) estimated nearly 1.7 million runaways and throwaways each year, of which just 357,600 are reported to police. The report found that 1.6 million are 12 – 17 years old, and 1.3 million are gone from 24 hours to 6 months. These are the kids most at risk of becoming victims of child prostitution and child trafficking. Thus, while 100,000 is just an estimate, we believe it is reasonable, conservative and based on sound empirical research.
Clearly, this is a problem of hidden victims. In 2003 the FBI, Justice Department and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) launched Innocence Lost. Previously, if this problem was addressed at all, it was addressed at the local level, often causing pimps to simply move kids to another city. Or, police arrested the kids. For the first time we began to look at the problem from a national perspective, identifying the networks and the patterns.
Today there are 41 Innocence Lost task forces. Nearly 700 pimps have been arrested and convicted, with six getting life sentences. More than 1,200 kids have been rescued, but much more must be done to help them. Over the past eight years, we have learned at least five key things:
(1) That these kids are truly victims. This is 21st century slavery. The pimps and the customers are the criminals. The kids need to be rescued, not arrested. However, the resources available to help them are woefully inadequate. There are some extraordinary programs doing heroic work, but there are not enough of them, and those that exist need more resources. That is why this legislation is so important.
(2) That much of this problem is organized crime. There are networks. The kids are moved from city to city. This is a text book example of supply and demand. The kids are taken to places with high demand and the greatest profit potential. While most of this is not traditional Mafia-type organized crime, in April 2010 a federal grand jury in New York indicted members of the Gambino crime family for selling kids for sex via the Internet.
(3) We have learned that offenders don't just parade these kids on city streets any more. Today, customers shop online from the privacy of their homes or hotel rooms. That is why in 2008 we joined with former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and more than 40 other state Attorneys General in an agreement with Craigslist, the largest online classified advertising site. Two years later Craigslist shut down their adult ads.
Our current focus is Backpage, the next largest site. They, too, have agreed to take action. Two weeks ago, I met with leaders of their company. It was a difficult, contentious meeting, but we are hopeful that the steps they are taking will eliminate the sale of kids for sex on their site. We are hopeful, but skeptical.
We recognize that if we put pressure in one area, some of this will
migrate to other areas. But that is progress nonetheless. We
must follow the money.
(4) We have learned that we need far more attention to prevention. Increasingly, our society has sexualized children at younger and younger ages. This has led many children to perceive some degree of sexual exploitation as normal. We must take steps to prevent children from becoming compliant victims; and
(5) We must attack the demand. Why is there such massive consumer demand for sex with kids? It has never been more blatant or more normalized than it is today in this era of the Internet. We need to hold the customers accountable for their actions, and we need to awaken the public to the need for real social change. It worked with tobacco, breast cancer, seat belts and car seats. It is time to address the sexual exploitation and victimization of children.
Senator Wyden, Senator Cornyn: Your legislation represents a major step forward on behalf of thousands of America's hidden victims. We are deeply grateful.