America’s children are innocent, vulnerable and feeble; concepts that are often ignored when working with commercially sexually exploited children. Sex workers are stigmatized, criminalized and victimized within communities throughout America. Terms like whores and prostitutes are often used loosely amongst social institutions and communities and even imposed on children. Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) do not voluntarily decide to sell their bodies for the financial gains of others; these children are threatened, psychologically abused, depleted and forced to follow their pimp’s orders. CSEC consists of three parties, where the child faces the greatest loss and abuse. This for profit business affects children within our communities, especially those children who are in foster care. These children that are seen as prey for these pimps; these pimps who target troubled, minority and vulnerable children disregarding social status. Children as young as 12 are ripped from the safety of their homes or are often sexually abused an exploited within their own home. After being physiologically, physically and sexually abused children are forced to enter ‘the life’ allowing for the sexual gratification of pedophiles through monetary gain of pimps.
Children who run away from home as they buy into this fairy tale of love, fame and material gains, while others are recruited from schools, kidnapped or lured by the internet becoming victims of exploitation. What about those children who are already in strange home and who have already faced neglect and abuse from their parents? Children in out of home placement, known as foster care, are dually at risk for pimps and predators. As children are ripped away from their homes child welfare workers report children as AWOL or runaways without much consideration. One would expect a missing child report to be filed and law enforcement investigates, this is not always the case for children in foster care.
There are oven 30,000 children under the jurisdiction of the child welfare system in LA County making it crucial to mandate workers to not only report children as runaway or AWOL but file a missing persons report with local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One would think this was already being done, when in reality children in foster care are rarely reported missing by caretakers or county workers. In efforts to address an issue like the commercially sexually exploitation of children smaller steps need to be taken to effectively combat child exploitation on a large-scale basis.
According to the National Exploitation for Missing and Exploited Children approximately 100,000 of missing children are exploited annually and 300,000 are at risk. Of those 100,000 sexually exploited children an exploiter or pimp will make $650,000 annually by selling four children. These children are often criminalized, forgotten and overlooked by law enforcement and child protective services. These social institutions fail our children by confirming those feelings of worthlessness and invisibility, allowing them to be sucked back into ‘the life.”
Proposition 35 allowed Californians to legally recognize children as victims condemning the sellers and buyers of children. Although this legislation passed in 2012, supporting legislation needs to be enacted addressing the distinct needs and risks of foster children throughout LA County. Assembly Bill 719 will require child welfare workers to report children with active DCFS cases to be reported missing to law enforcement and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. By mandating welfare workers to report children as missing child welfare workers and specialized taskforces will be able to coordinate multiagency efforts to find these children before they are victimized and exploited. AB 719 will not only require local and federal law enforcement involvement, it will facilitate the implementation of comprehensive services for CSEC victims.
CSEC is not just another hot social justice topic; AB 719 will mandate child welfare workers to report missing children to local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. CSEC does not only affect the city of Los Angeles, but all cities throughout the county. The first step in combating the sexual exploitation of children in the foster care system is to report them missing. AB 719 is a step in the right direction, take action and contact your local representative and urge them to support AB 719.
Sonia Martinez is a USC Masters of Social Work candidate for 2016.
Published: May 14, 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 05