Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Girls in the U.S.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the United States is an epidemic that has garnered little attention. It is estimated that up to 200,000 children are trafficked within the United States, the majority whom are girls who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Some additional facts:
- The average age of a girl who is sexually exploited is 14.
- Many girls are lured into the trade from Internet chat room sites.
- A listing for 'erotic services' on Craigslist receives a 65% higher response rate if accompanied by a photo of what appears to be a teenage girl.
Poverty is not the only cause of child prostitution, but it is strongly related. In the U.S., girls remain disproportionately affected by poverty, violence and a lack of access to quality education.
Girls who drop out of high school are at risk for being sexually exploited for commercial gain. They are also more likely to become pregnant, creating an additional economic challenge for the young mother and risking perpetuation of the cycle of poverty for the child. The National Women’s Law Center dropout study reports that 40 percent of African-American girls do not finish high school every year, compared with 37 percent of Hispanic girls and 50 percent of Native-American girls. African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are also disproportionately affected by poverty in their communities.
Despite the conditions of poverty and inequality throughout the U.S., the public generally associates commercial sexual exploitation of children with other countries—cities like Amsterdam and Bangkok come to mind, along with countries like Cambodia. Another misconception is that commercial sexual exploitation of children happens mostly in urban areas. However, girls are at risk in suburban and rural communities as well.
Despite these realities, children are still facing jail time for prostitution-related charges while their exploiters, pimps and particularly johns, rarely face prosecution themselves. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is misunderstood by policymakers, law enforcement and the public, who often take a “blame-the-victim” approach that portrays children as troublemakers who have deliberately chosen to live this lifestyle. These children are often victimized twice—by pimps and johns who exploit them and then by the authorities who label them as prostitutes.
The public is often times unaware of the crime of commercial sexual exploitation of children because of its low visibility and high-level shame. The crime that had taken place on the sidewalk has now moved to the virtual streets of the Internet, further shrouding it and making it easy to believe that the problem doesn’t really exist.