Exploited minors need our help, not punishment

Former Southwest Washington Congresswoman Linda Smith was back in the nation’s capital on familiar turf Wednesday, testifying before a House subcommittee in support of a bill aimed at combating sex trafficking of minors. It’s a topic in which Smith has developed considerable expertise since founding Shared Hope International in 1998 to “rescue and restore women and children in crisis.” The Vancouver-based nonprofit is a leader in the battle against human trafficking worldwide, due largely to Smith’s fierce dedication, strong work ethic and practiced political skills.

Last year, Shared Hope International completed what must be regarded as the definitive study of the sexual exploitation of children in the United States. The bulk of the research, funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, was conducted in nine U.S. cities and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory. A private grant provided for additional research in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Despite more than a decade’s experience working with victims of human trafficking, Smith said last fall that she was “shocked” by what the investigation revealed.

Researchers put the number of sexually exploited children in U.S. cities at upward of 100,000. “What we found,” Smith told Daily News reporter Cheryll A. Borgaard, “is I can go to Craiglist or a strip club or an adult shop anywhere to find a minor for sex. There’s no town, I don’t care where; if there’s buyers, there’s sellers.”

In her testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Smith lamented the fact that young victims of domestic sex trafficking too often are treated as oenders. According to a report of the hearing by Joseph Picard of the International Business Times, Smith testified that sex-trafficking victims, whose average initial exploitation age is 13, are often treated as juvenile delinquents or adult prostitutes by the criminal justice system. “Those who are identified as minors are frequently charged with a delinquent act, either prostitution-related activities or a related offense such as drug possession,” Smith explained. That treatment, Smith added, only compounds the trauma of the sexual violence the minor has already experienced.

The bill Smith’s testimony supported — the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010 — would help promote a more victim-centered approach to addressing minor sex trafficking. It would authorize block grants to both help combat sex trafficking and provide services to minor victims of sex trafficking.

Minor victims would get shelter, substance abuse treatment, counseling and legal services. Law enforcement would receive specialized training on sex trafficking and grant funds for investigating and prosecuting the sex traffickers who exploit minors.

Smith told the House subcommittee it’s important not only that young victims of sex trafficking be identified and treated as victims, but also that traffickers and their buyers be apprehended and prosecuted. This legislation, H.R. 5575, would help do both.

source: http://tdn.com/news/opinion/article_ff4f0ae4-c421-11df-92ec-001cc4c002e0.html

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 7:41 am  Comments (1)  
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Linda Smith has played a key role in the fight against human-trafficking, child exploitation

The Lower Columbia Community Action Program (CAP) could not have chosen a more appropriate guest speaker than Linda Smith for its “One Person Can Make A Difference” dinner and celebration next Month. The former Southwest Washington state legislator and congresswoman has made a considerable difference in the fight against human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. The Vancouver-based nonprofit Shared Hope International she founded in 1999 has rescued many thousands of trafficked women and children worldwide.

At the Oct. 24 CAP dinner, Smith will talk about her new book, “Renting Lacy,” and a national report she recently presented to Congress. The report deals with the sexual exploitation of children in the United States, according to Daily News reporter Cheryll A. Borgaard. The bulk of the research, funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, was conducted in nine U.S. cities and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory. A private grant to Shared Hope International provided for additional research in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Despite a little more than a decade working with victims of human trafficking, Smith says she was “shocked” by what the investigation of sexual exploitation of children in U.S. cities revealed. “What we found is I can go to craigslist or a strip club or an adult shop anywhere and find a minor for sex,” Smith told Borgaard. “There’s no town, I don’t care where; if there’s buyers, there’s sellers. Pornography is driving the sex train for younger and younger girls.”

The study put the number of sexually exploited children in the United States at upwards of 100,000. That estimate, though surprising, is probably credible. The research in this report is extensive and persuasive. That would be typical of the work of Shared Hope International and its founder. The organization has become a leader in the battle against human trafficking worldwide due chiefly to Smith’s fierce dedication, strong work ethic and practiced political skills.

Smith earned a reputation for getting things done during 11 years representing the 18th Legislative District in the state House and four years representing the Third Congressional District in the U.S. House. She also earned a reputation for taking on causes she considered important without regard for party doctrine. Indeed, her support for federal campaign finance reform, which didn’t set well with many of her Republican colleagues, might have played a part in ending her political career. She left the House to run for one of Washington’s Senate seats in 1998, losing to Democrat Patty Murray.

The political defeat only served to redirect Smith’s focus and energies. Within the year, she founded Shared Hope International to help rescue girls as young as 7 from brothels in Mumbai, India. By 2000, the organization was operating six safe houses and a mobile clinic in Mumbai, and three safe houses in Nepal.

Shared Hope International has been particularly effective in combating human trafficking in part because the charity pretty much is the gold standard among nonprofits in this fight. It gets four stars from Charity Navigator’s Guide to Intelligent Giving, which is the Web site’s top rating for charities that outperform most others in their cause.

Smith has done a remarkable job for her chosen cause. She’s one person who is making a big difference in the world.

source:http://www.tdn.com/articles/2009/09/22/editorial/doc4ab818fa507f3778735559.txt

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Shared Hope: Repairing the damage of nation’s sex trafficking

Linda Smith
For more than a decade, Linda Smith’s Shared Hope International organization has rescued thousands of women and children around the world from the sordid world of prostitution. But the discovery of the extent of the sexual exploitation of teen and preteen girls in the United States almost made her walk away.

“I was shocked and then thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this. They look too much like my granddaughters,’ ” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s too hard, but yet, it’s helped me see how others might see it. I was having a hard time believing it, and I was seeing it.”

In 2006, Shared Hope International received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to research the sex trafficking of American children. Investigation was made in 10 targeted locations — Dallas; San Antonio, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Salt Lake City; Buffalo, N.Y.; New Orleans, Independence, Mo.; Las Vegas, Clearwater, Fla.; and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory.

A private grant allowed further investigation in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Smith presented the results, “The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children,” to Congress in July. She also wrote a book, “Renting Lacy,” which was published last month.

Shared Hope’s investigation revealed there are at least 100,000 American children being sexually exploited by pimps and traffickers and the “johns” who pay for them. The average “recruitment” age for the girls is 12 to 13 years of age.

“By the time we got done, between undercover footage and interviews, we pretty well had the nation,” Smith said. “What we found is I can go to craigslist or a strip club or an adult shop anywhere and find a minor for sex. There’s no town, I don’t care where; if there’s buyers, there’s sellers. Pornography is driving the sex train for younger and younger girls.”

Shared Hope’s national report found that too often, the trafficked children were treated more like criminals than victims.

Pimps and traffickers, while grooming their girls for sexual acts, teach them to lie about their identity, their age and information about who they work for if the police pick them up for prostitution, Smith said.

“These girls have so little trust because nearly every adult in their lives has been untrustworthy, and her pimp tells her that if she gets picked up by law enforcement then she will go to jail. And that is often what happens” Smith says in the report. “So, as far as this child sees it, the only adult who has told her the truth is the pimp.”

But those arrests and rap sheets also are making it easier for organizations like Shared Hope to identify the children to possibly get them away from their traffickers, Smith said.

“That’s how we figure out where they are,” she said. “In Las Vegas, we were able to pull up records and find out where the kids came from. There were three from Vancouver and at least one from Longview they had brought down there. And most likely these girls had been moved all around the country at one time or another.”

Smith said traffickers look for girls they identify as being vulnerable, either luring them with flattery, buying them presents or outright kidnapping them. About half are in the foster care system and have fallen through the cracks, Smith said.

“If no one is looking for them, they’re going to stay in the system,” she said. “One girl finally was able to get to a phone, then she realized she had no one to call.”

While federal law says a minor can’t be charged with prostitution, state laws aren’t quite so clear, Smith said.

“We didn’t know it was here until about five or six years ago. Now that I’ve done the research, we’re taking a look at key states, looking at everything we can to make it work,” she said. “Once communities know, they’ll take action. They’re taking it serious and looking at the law. We found the most common thing was we go ahead when we realize what is in front of us.”

Smith to speak at CAP dinner

Linda Smith, former Republican congresswoman and founder of Shared hope International, will be the guest speaker for the “One Person Can Make A Difference” dinner and celebration, sponsored by Lower Columbia CAP. Smith will speak about her new book, “Renting Lacy” and the national report she presented to Congress on sexual exploitation of children in the United States.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Red Lion Hotel in Kelso. Cost is $50 per person, which includes dinner. Tickets are available online at http://www.LowerColumbiaCAP.org or at the CAP office, 1526 Commerce Ave., Longview. All proceeds go to the CAP Foundation.

Learn more

To learn more about Shared Hope International’s work as well as the report on the sex trafficking of children in the United States, go to http://www.sharedhope.org

source: http://www.tdn.com/articles/2009/09/20/area_news/doc4ab4399bd8235433605603.txt

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 8:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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