By: Elisabet Medina
"I remember being worried about a youth that ran away for days on end, would come back high as a kite, and had multiple “boyfriends”; in 2015 there were very limited options: if the parent was doing all that they could, the child protective services hotline had no real way to intervene, the response was to call the police. The police could do very little without the youth being forthcoming and disclosing of abuse or exploitation. It felt a lot like a no-mans land, with multiple calls leading to a dead end.
Fast forward, in 2017 prostitution has been decriminalized for minors in California with that realization incarceration further criminalizes youth who have been victimized and exploited. And child sex trafficking has been designated as form of child abuse. There is the ongoing paradigm shift to see youth as victims of child trafficking rather than as criminals. This paradigm shifting is not without its detours. Often the result of perceiving a youth as a victim comes with it an approach to child protection by any means necessary. We can form ideas that about who a victim is, and who a victim is not, how a victim is "supposed" to act and how they are not "supposed" to act.
Our expectations and perceptions can be detrimental to child labor trafficking victims. Children are exploited in industries such as agriculture, domestic work and gang involved drug sales often facing physical or sexual abuse if they do not comply. By not perceiving these children and youth as victims of trafficking to the same degree as other victims of trafficking this can create a disparity in the access to legal assistance and social services.
This is also to the detrimental to girls of color that are perceived to be adults far faster than their peers. Adultification- a term used in this report [Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood] "to refer to the perception of Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than white girls of the same age—as well as its possible causal connection with negative outcomes across a diverse range of public systems, including education, juvenile justice, and child welfare".
This is also a detriment to young adults who are in the sex trades and have children of their own. Often these young adults can be deemed as unfit parents and have custody of their own children taken away which perpetuates a cycle of inter-generational trauma.
When looking at violence throughout the lifetime, prevention of child exploitation does not mean eroding the rights of sex workers or to crack down on the demand for commercial sex. Rather, to prevent child exploitation we have to look at the root causes that create vulnerabilities in the first place. Root causes such as poverty, community violence, systemic racism, gender inequality and early childhood sexual abuse.
Exploitation is driven by vulnerabilities and when these vulnerabilities are met with systemic failures and lack of support, individuals are set on the trajectory of violence. Anti-trafficking work should not rest on rescuing someone from a single incident of exploitation but rather continuously mitigating the lifetime of harm from trauma. Lives can only change when met with humanity, compassion, non-judgement and choice.
Recently, I was asked what can I do about child trafficking?
Here are three ways to start: