Nathan was just 5 years old when his biological mother began trafficking him, allowing boyfriends and other men to sexually abuse him in exchange for drug money, rent money, groceries, cable tv and a new iPhone. And images of his body were also used in child pornography. He finally entered foster care at age 9, bounced around from family to family, where he endured additional trauma before he found a loving family to adopt him at the age of 12.
I take the topic of sexploitation seriously, because I too am a survivor of sexual assault, both as a child at the age of 7 and as an adult.
Being a woman and Nathan’s adoptive mother means I am constantly confronted with the realities of what sexploitation can do, is doing….. and has done to my son, myself and our family.
The term sexploitation entered the scene on October 9, 2003 when United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a global bulletin defining and prohibiting sexual exploitation and setting the precedent for the world. Sexploitation broadly refers to “any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes, including but not limited to profiting monetarily, socially, or politically from sexual exploitation.”
It’s important to know, that according to the International Labour Organization, human trafficking is the second largest international crime industry, just behind illegal drugs. It reportedly generates a profit of $99 billion every year. According to some estimates, approximately 80% of trafficking involves sex trafficking with an annual profit of $79.2 BILLION!
And it’s happening in your own backyard.
Today I’m going to discuss three things:
1. The many forms of sexploitation
2. The power of knowledge, and most importantly
3. Ways you can get involved in anti-trafficking efforts, and ending sexual abuse in your local community and around the world.
Sexploitation takes on many forms:
- sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking
- sexual assault, including child sexual assault.
- violence against women
- prostitution, not to be confused with trafficking
- pornography, including child pornography
The demand for pornography is a huge problem.
Every second 28,258 users are watching pornography in the U.S. Nearly 40 million American’s regularly visit porn sites. 35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography. According to National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children more than 50,000 images of child pornography are posted on the Internet every week, and the average age of the victim is 10 years old.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that between 240,000 and 325,000 children are at risk for sexploitation each year in the United States. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
While researching this topic there is one statistic that has been really hard for me to wrap my mind around: An estimated 30-40% of victims are abused by and/or trafficked by a family member, and 60% are abused by and/or trafficked by someone the family knows.
Why is this information important? Why am I sharing these disturbing facts? Because chances are, statistically speaking, you are someone, or someone you know has been directly effected by sexploitation.
There are an estimated 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse that exist in America today! The #metoo movement started by Tarana Burke is just one example of how speaking out casts some light on a very dark topic. There seems to be a cultural shift occurring in how we view victims of sexual abuse and that’s a good thing! Statistics show that sexually abused children who keep it a secret OR who “tell” and aren’t believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social and physical problems lasting long into adulthood. Social movements such as #metoo are crucial to shifting our culture in a direction that supports victims and fights to end the demand for sexploitation.
I’ve shared a lot of information and you also may be thinking “This problem is too big! What can I do?” There are many ways to be involved, and here’s how:
- Education yourself: The more knowledge you have, the more prepared and equipped you’ll be to stop it. Follow organizations online: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Human Trafficking Center, and National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Read articles. Watch informative videos. Follow what congress is doing with SESTA and FOSTA. Stay in the know!
- Recognize The Signs: Whether it is at an airport, at the local park, in the mall, you might pass by a victim and not realize it. When you are able to recognize what a victim looks like, you can better help them.
- Report Any Suspicions: For my son it was lifesaving! His teacher noticed he was missing school more and more. She noticed he was always hungry. And then when he came to school with bruises she called the authorities. PLEASE LISTEN. We can longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend that these things do not happen. When you see suspicious activity you believe may be related to child sex trafficking or abuse, make that phone call.
- Raise Awareness: This isn’t a popular topic. But, if not you, then who? I implore you to talk about it within your circle of friends and family, at work, at school, and even with your local politicians and legislators.
- Take Action: Become an advocate. Write letters to your local politicians, encouraging them to continue to address this issue. Get involved in anti-trafficking efforts where you live. There are a few national and international organizations you can volunteer with as well. If you want to work hands-on with victims you can mentor at-risk youth, become a foster parent. There also more low-key ways to be involved, hand out flyers, work a hot-line. There are many ways to get involved. Figure out what you’re comfortable doing and do something.
I’ve shared a few facts about sexploitation; we briefly discussed why it’s important to stay “in-the-know”. And most importantly we’ve talked about ways to get involved, and put a stop to abuse and sex trafficking in our own backyards. I also shared some intimate details about my son’s journey and a bit of my story. I hope you’ll use this to fuel the fire that has hopefully been sparked within you. I pray that fire burns bright and sheds a much needed light on the darkness created by sexploitation. My son and I are just two people in the vast sea of victims.
Of all the needs that exist in the world, I believe we owe it to the 42 million victims, and to future generations, to end sexploitation. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to do something.
“Human Trafficking Facts.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Accessed February 25, 2014, .
Bales, Kevin. “The Number.” The CNN Freedom Project Ending Modern Day Slavery. Accessed February 25, 2014
“Modern Slavery.” Free the Slaves. Accessed February 25, 2014, https://www.freetheslaves.net/sslpage.aspx?pid=301
J Hum Behav Soc Environ. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2015 Dec 30.
Published in final edited form as: J Hum Behav Soc Environ. 2015; 25(6): 591–605.
Published online 2015 Apr 9. doi: 10.1080/10911359.2014.991055
Walters, Jim and Davis, Patricia H. (2011) “Human Trafficking, Sex Tourism, and Child Exploitation on the Southern Border,” Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 6. Available at: http://digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/childrenatrisk/vol2/iss1/6
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. http://www.missingkids.com/home
National Human Trafficking Resource Center
National Center on Sexual Exploitation