Tea Parties, laces, and baby doll faces: 2014: Child slavery no more
By Debra Rae
As a young child, I was lovingly called "daddy's little butterball" (no offense intended or taken!). To dad, I was made of "sugar, spice, and everything nice" with promise of "sunshine and rainbows and ribbons for hair bows." Over time, of course, this tender ditty became but a distant childhood memory—a warm and fuzzy one at that.
Unfortunately, not all little girls experience the girly delights of "tea parties, laces, and baby doll faces." Ask former U.S. Representative Linda Smith. Some sixteen years ago, Smith was introduced to a world of unthinkable horror on Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. There she encountered "a 13-year-old girl crouched in a dark corner of a filthy brothel—her hair dirty and tangled; her eyes hollow and lifeless."
Tainted by the scent of a hundred men, this little urchin appeared lost and doomed forever; but Smith refused to turn away. From this unsavory encounter sprang Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization founded by Smith. SHI wars against modern-day slavery (and torture) of the world's vulnerable boys/girls and young women forced to forfeit "baby doll faces" for the ill-gotten pleasures of pimps and johns.
Lest you suppose only "that kind of girl" (or boy) gets embroiled in the sex industry, think again. In May 2013, Shared Hope International released a gripping, 21-minute documentary, called Chosen. "Don't think your child is not vulnerable," Smith warns. "These guys infiltrate the Internet, the phones." They are very good at what they do.
To impart knowledge through compelling stories of victimization, Smith purposes to feature Chosen in every school across the United States so that students might sidestep the path of a high school honor student (and cheerleader) from a small town outside Vancouver, Washington. Beautiful Brianna dreamed of moving to Seattle to attend nursing school. Masterful at wooing vulnerable girls, her newfound boyfriend envisioned different plans for her. Little did Brianna know that this self-identified, college football "hero" chose her to groom for prostitution. From that fate, Brianna was spared; but her journey, described in Chosen, educates girls (like Brianna) about meticulously crafted webs of deceit tailor made for them.
‘Tis the Season
This holiday season, while "visions of sugar plums dance through the heads" of countless children from near and far, hundreds of thousands are recruited as commodities for an ever-expanding, multi-billion-dollar sex industry. Yes, even in America. That the Netherlands, Japan, and Jamaica are among four major markets for sex tourism may not surprise, but the United States Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Office counts the US as fourth in line. Recall that about sixteen miles outside of Reno, the Mustang Ranch serves as a sort of sex tourist attraction.
Increasingly younger children are targeted, recruited, and exploited. Domestically, over one hundred thousand children are sex trafficked each year. Theirs is the "gift" that keeps on taking. Once on the streets, one out of every three teens is lured into prostitution within forty-eight hours of leaving home. In fact, fully ninety percent of the one- to two- million youth runaways are sexually violated.
Sex trafficking occurs when a commercial sex act is induced by force or fraud, or when a victim is younger than eighteen years of age. It need not involve movement from state-to-state—by way of example, the three Cleveland, Ohio kidnapped girls who, for over a decade, were held as sex prisoners not far from their family homes.
This "blessed season," thanks to Smith's Prevention, Prosecution, and Protection Plan, countless children will embrace new hope and healing—this, through implementation of an effective three-pronged strategy of awareness, restoration, and ending demand.
Sadly, Princeton's Peter Singer once predicted that, by the year 2040, "Only hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct." Standing among these "know nothings," I am not alone. In response to the strong public reaction across the country to the news of Operation Stormy Nights, whereby twenty-three minors were released from forced prostitution, the FBI established a new department, "Innocence Lost," to continue freeing prostituted children.
Of seven steps suggested by the National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, society must not criminalize and/or misidentify victims as delinquent "problems." With accurate, nationwide, multi-disciplinary reporting measures, authorities must prioritize arrest and prosecution of buyers, not victims. Accordingly, the Predator Project collaborates with local law enforcement, government officials, and the public by disclosing information, profiling and punishing perpetrators, not their prey. Evidence-based techniques and protocols, coupled with protective shelters and services (integrating survivor leadership) are key.
Prostitute or Prostituted?
Child victimization is a national threat, and sex-trafficked children represent a "different kind of survivor of violent crime." Case in point: Once an honor student, having won a young author's award, a Riverside girl was "chosen" at eleven and sexually abused at thirteen years of age. Driven to kill her abuser in 1994, Sara Kruzen faced a life sentence in a California prison. Ironically, had she killed her husband, it might have been "self-defense." Not so for a prostitute.
Senator Leland Yee (Democrat, San Francisco) called Kruzen's case the "perfect example of adults who failed her…. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution; and there was no one around." Adding insult to injury, she was unduly burdened with the daunting task of building a case against her own trafficker. Gratefully, Kruzan's dilemma inspired California's law against locking up juveniles for life.
A Nation at Risk
Today, over seventy percent of incarcerated sex offenders admit to fueling their addictions by viewing child pornography; and every month, some thirty-two million Americans visit online porn sites, one in five featuring child sex. This, coupled with a culture of complacency, moral ambiguity, and weak laws lethargically enforced, I fear for our nation.
A World of Hurt
The holiday message promises joy to the world, but far too many children feel helplessly lost. Lest we think more highly of ourselves than we ought, the United States fares no differently from "backward" countries as India, Indonesia, Nepal, Singapore, Argentina, and South Africa. Though U.S. child- and adult- sex trafficking victims are covered under definitions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, monies have yet to be appropriated for victim services.
Still, politicians boast commitments at the international level—i.e., to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by more than one hundred foreign governments and unanimously adopted by the U.N. General Assembly (1989). Problem is, UN documents grant federal government inordinately broad power over children, families, and schools. Furthermore, treaty provisions in the hands of international bodies, and interpreted by foreign lawyers, imperil American sovereignty and citizens' rights. International experts prod America to do a better job providing shelter for her at risk children, but this is the pot calling the kettle black.
You see, UN Millennium Development Goals may well champion gender equality and empowerment, but the UN likewise favors "voluntary," legalized prostitution. It seeks to lower the age of consent, and many gay activists openly advocate "inter-generational intimacy." Already, a Dutch law has reduced the statutory age of consent to twelve, deeming it a "good model of reasonable legislation under certain circumstances." By normalizing sex sales, the Dutch economy increasingly relies on the sex tourism industry.
A Mission of Honor
It's easy to dig up statistics on the ills of society, then whine about the futility of it all; and it's convenient to ignore the cries of victims. While it's comfortable to pass the buck, and rare to make a difference, Linda Smith has devoted all her energy to the global mission of creating strategic partnerships, interviewing survivors of victimization, and raising awareness.
Smith understands that, before building hopeful futures, victims first must get well and become mentally and physically stable. Two types of services—(1) emergency placement and (2) long-term care that leads to self-sufficiency—require ideal shelter delivery models that feature effective, trauma-informed housing and after-care programs. To its credit, Shared Hope International collaborates with local groups to fund safe homes and shelters where rescued women and children can live throughout duration of their recovery process.
A New Year's Resolution Worth Making
Devoted advocates appropriate needed funding (about $24-50K/child) and facilitate licensing, placement for services, and programmatic/ therapeutic responses that ensure child wellbeing; and the Women's Investment Network (WIN) program offers education and job skills training for amazingly resilient victims, once rescued.
As important as counseling, educating, and mentoring are, relationship with the Savior trumps all. God "knows the hopes of the helpless," "hears their cries," and "comforts them." It behooves the faith community to follow His lead and "snuff the lamp of the wicked" to proclaim God's plan, not for harm, but rather to impart hope in a prosperous future. God commands believers to "learn to do right, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case for the widow." To co-work with Him on behalf of abused children worldwide is a New Year's resolution well worth making!