Young victims of sex trafficking need safe house


The seedy world of prostitution is not on TV, it’s in our own backyards. From Southwest Houston to Houston’s Third Ward, females clad in short skirts and stilettos wander the streets, waiting for the next John. Unfortunately, something even more sinister is happening out there. Innocence is being sold. Girls as young as 12 and 13 are working the streets.

According to the non-profit agency Children at Risk, as many as 600 young girls are forced into prostitution in Houston nightly, most all of them through a pimp. This makes Houston one of the biggest hubs for child-sex trafficking. What’s more disturbing, these girls have no place to go for help. If they are arrested, they are either taken into CPS custody, or sent home to the same, often unstable homes from which they ran away. Eventually, most return to their pimps and their lives as child prostitutes.

However, in cities such as New York and Atlanta, girls are signing up for something else. They are turning to safe houses, or long-term residential facilities for child-sex-trafficking victims. In Atlanta, Angela’s House provides education and counseling services, and girls stay between four to six months, or longer if they need to. In New York City, Girls Education and Mentoring Services (G.E.M.S.) is a shelter that provides direct services to victims between 12 and 21 years old. While some girls are referred to the programs by their parents or a local social service agency, others are court mandated. Whichever the case, Angela’s House and G.E.M.S. are programs from which Houston can model.

It’s time local leaders take action to protect these children. We desperately need a safe house so these girls can finally get the real help and services they need. Arresting young girls for prostitution and locking them up in juvenile detention until they are released criminalizes them for acts they are too young to choose on their own. Keeping them on the streets is unconscionable. Advocates say it would cost $5,000 per child per month to run such a shelter. We suggest that’s a paltry price tag to save a child’s life.

State lawmakers did their part by recently passing several new laws aimed at combating the child-sex-trafficking business. We now have a statewide anti-trafficking task force headed by the Office of the Attorney General. This task force will allow increased awareness and communication among multiple state agencies. Pimps often operate as part of a larger network. Operation Total Exposure netted the arrests of five people accused of running a prostitution ring. Their victims came to work in Houston from other states, and some were as young as 16 and 17. Investigators described the girls as “indentured slaves.”

Pimps convicted of sex trafficking charges will now automatically face harsher penalties if their victims are minors. What’s more, prosecutors will no longer have to prove these pimps knew their girls were minors. Finally, victims can sue for monetary damages in civil court on grounds of physical and emotional abuse.

Recent FBI reports show since 2004, more than 100 child victims have been found in Houston. This year alone, 30 have been identified. Still, it’s unlikely they left the life of sex trafficking for good. It’s time our local leaders step in. Young girls have no place being on the streets. They deserve a chance at a normal life. Protect them by providing a safe house.

source: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/6733288.html

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Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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