By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Give the 27 non-reporting task forces the benefit of the doubt. If they'd operated at the capacity of the functional 18, they would have added another 150 kids per year.
If all 45 task forces had had the same degree of success, they would, possibly, have located a total of 250 kids per year who were trafficked.
Not 100,000, and certainly not 300,000.
After millions upon millions of dollars, after years of raising awareness, after incalculable effort by religious, civic, and municipal workers, after focused attention from local and federal law enforcement: Why so few cases prosecuted and why so few children rescued?
Jay Albanese, a criminologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, spent four years heading up the Department of Justice's research division.
"There's tons of estimates on human trafficking," says Albanese. "They're all crap... It's all guesswork, speculation... The numbers are inherently unbelievable.
"[The latest report] shows 2,500 investigations were begun by the 42 human-trafficking task forces. But only 30 or 40 percent of those have been confirmed as trafficking cases, and only 300 or so are actual arrests. The point is, given the 42 investigative trafficking task forces—and these people have undergone training—the actual number of cases always seems to be just a fraction of these very high estimates."
He adds, "I wonder if these people putting up these very high estimates are helping or hurting the cause."
But those grandiose estimates are helping the advocates, like Linda Smith, who have their hands out for government funding or charitable contributions.
"Let's face it: A study or a story saying several thousand young teens are being exploited in the sex trade has a lot less impact than one suggesting that several hundred thousand are 'at risk,' " says ASU's Doig. "Researchers, journalists, law enforcement, and politicians alike have incentives to focus on the much bigger number."
Despite the tidal wave of cash going to nonprofits purporting to raise awareness and task forces hoping to prosecute (with little track record of success), someone's been left out: the victims.
Whether the number is the 800-plus per year (as indicated by police records) or a higher, not yet documented, number, there is no question that teenagers who exchange cash for sex present a special challenge.
Seattle is one of the few places in the nation with a shelter devoted to underage prostitutes. Despite the obvious need, the city manages the program without federal funding.
"These children, as victims, need more trauma-recovery services," says Melinda Giovengo, who, as executive director of Seattle's YouthCare, administers the Bridge Program, a residential center for teen prostitutes.
"There is evidence that a dedicated residential recovery program, with wraparound mental health, chemical dependence, and educational and vocational services, provided by well-trained specialists, both on-site and in the community, can help young victims of commercial sexual exploitation in breaking free from the track."
Although Congress has spent hundreds of millions in tax-generated money to fight human trafficking, it has yet to spend a penny to shelter and counsel those boys and girls in America who are, in fact, underage prostitutes.
In March of this year, 10 years after Estes and Weiner claimed that 100,000 to 300,000 children were at risk of becoming sex workers, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (a Democrat from Oregon) and John Cornyn (a Republican from Texas) introduced legislation to fund six shelters with $15 million in grants. The shelters would provide beds, counseling, clothing, case work, and legal services. If enacted, this legislation would be the first of its kind.
The bill has yet to clear the Senate or the House.
The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women.
In Canada, prostitution is legal.
But under Canadian law, working women are not allowed the safety of a brothel or a bodyguard or a check that would give their whereabouts (for matters of safety).
Prostitutes successfully sued last year seeking to overturn the portion of the law they believed threatened their safety.
Earlier this month, the government's appeal of that ruling was heard.
The issue wasn't the legality of prostitution, a given, but whether prostitutes could protect themselves by getting off the street or by hiring security.
As reported June 16 in the National Post: "Prostitution is immoral, argued Ranjan Agarwal, a lawyer representing the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Catholic Rights League, and REAL Women of Canada. But, asked Justice David Doherty, What if sex workers die as a result? Wouldn't that be harm out of proportion from the intended good?
"No," Agarwal said. Such an outcome is a 'side effect,' and it was better for Parliament to 'send a signal' to anyone thinking of entering the sex trade that there was great risk involved."
Having solved the problem of America's underage sex trafficking, Demi Moore moved on to Nepal, where she addressed that nation's problem with juvenile prostitutes. A CNN special on Moore's appearance in Nepal aired Sunday, June 26.
Statement About Sourcing
Village Voice Media relied predominantly on individual police departments within 37 of the largest cities in the U.S. to furnish us with juvenile prostitution arrest data over the course of the last 10 years.
When that wasn't possible, either because of incomplete records or because a particular department didn't track the data for that long a period, we used FBI arrest statistics, in addition to various state and county law enforcement agencies.