The federal government became seriously engaged in the fight against human sex trafficking in 2000, with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); a federal effort that was and still is focused on the 50,000 (a vastly conservative figure), or more victims who come each year to the United States from other countries. Sadly, many victims of sex trafficking in the United States are our own kids: under federal law, any aggrieved child sexually exploited via the Internet is a victim of sex trafficking because posting pornography or selling sex using this medium crosses interstate lines.To date the lack of systematic data puts this number at 250,000 per year.
A few weeks back in my continued quest to abolish child sex trafficking in America and research for my upcoming book on the same subject, Patrick Trueman introduced me to Steve Wagner in D.C.
Steve Wagner, President and Founder, the Renewal Forum, and former Director, Human Trafficking Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Patrick Trueman, former Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Criminal Division, U. S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., are two of the great leaders driving the fight to stop child sex trafficking in America. Read Huff Post blog “Internet pornography is the “Sexual Revolution” on Speed” posted on 4.21.10.
Like most of us, Trueman and Wagner are on the hunt for a perfect model city on which to create the foundation for an “anti exploitation community”. What can be better than this? Meeting a desperate need with a viable solution.
On March 15 and 16, 2010, at the Kansas City (MO) Police Academy, the Renewal Forum convened the “Call for Community Action Conference” to plan the abolition of the sexual exploitation of juveniles in Kansas and Missouri. This event – cosponsored by the Attorney-General of Kansas; the Kansas City (MO) Police Department; the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas; and the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families – was a triumph is several regards.
Two hundred and fifty attended (versus an initial projection of 100), of whom a quarter were police officers. Senator Sam Brownback now running for Governor of Kansas, delivered an inspiring keynote address and the conference brought together police officers and representatives of non-government organizations to discuss how to work together to end exploitation in and around Kansas City. The conference also elicited many excellent suggestions for additional elements of a strategy of abolition.
The mission of the Renewal Forum is to end the pandemic of exploitation. Given the limited resources and urgent challenges facing today’s administration, The People cannot leave this problem to the federal government alone. State and local government agencies need to be actively involved which means that we need good laws in place at the state level. It also means that local law enforcement agencies need to start working with community organizations to find and protect the victims.
Sex trafficking is a crime in which most of the victims will not report what is being perpetrated against him or her, a situation which is taxing to the normal practices of law enforcement. Because of this challenge, we need to create models of collaboration between community organizations and law enforcement agencies, because often community organizations are better able to find victims than are the police.
According to The Renewal Forum, each year American 2300 children fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation in Kansas, and 4700 are victimized in Missouri, with nearly a quarter of this total (1650) being victimized in the Kansas City Metropolitan area. Those numbers conservatively represent one of a million communities across the country. It is not the Forum’s contention that Kansas City has a particular problem of juvenile exploitation; rather, Kansas City’s problem is typical for a metropolitan area of its size (U.S. Census estimate over 2,000,000 population), and that Kansas City characteristics, make it an advantageous place to implement a model.
To date there is no single community that has organized all of the necessary anti-exploitation programs and activities; although there are many interesting initiatives in the United States. The concept of a “model city” comes out of the realization that there is no “silver bullet” for the abolition of sexual exploitation in a community.
According to Wagner, “the abolition of human exploitation requires a community-wide continuum of response, consisting of a number of distinct yet mutually supportive activities and institutions”. Putting in place a continuum of response in one center is the purpose behind establishing a model city. The Forum’s goal is to create an environment in a single community that is so inhospitable to exploitation that the crime withers away. Once they achieve an empirical demonstration of success, the model self-replicates in other communities.
Five key elements make up this model:
1. Identifying and Rescuing Victims
2. Restoration of Victims
3. Demand Reduction
4. Local Government Action
5. Research on the Nature and Extent of the Problem in the Community
In a nutshell, employing this methodology to contact the victims, asking the right questions, working with the community and local law enforcement, and making use of the information will build the protective and prosecutorial mechanisms that could prevent further child sex trafficking across our communities and our Nation. Steve Wagner can be reached at The Renewal Forum: Wagner@renewalforum.org.