Across the globe, child sex trafficking is a $99 billion enterprise, making it the second largest illegal trade behind drugs. It reaches every corner of Colorado, but has largely been ignored and become a hidden epidemic that is destroying lives and endangering Kempe’s mission to protect children.
On October 4, 2018, we convened a group of health and human services experts to help educate the community on what child sex trafficking looks like in Colorado. Here, we de-bunk the five most common myths of child sex trafficking and share what we learned from this important discussion:
MYTH #1: Sex trafficking is not a problem in my community – sex trafficking is only a problem in foreign countries or large, highly-populated cities.
The unfortunate reality is that there is a growing demand for sex with youth here in Colorado. It happens in every community and affects youth of every age, all genders, races and from all income levels. Additionally, while the Coloradans fueling the demand for sex with children come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the typical buyer is a Caucasian male, 35-45 years old, married with two children and making between $70,000 and $100,000 a year.
MYTH #2: Sex trafficking is a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation or movement across state or national borders.
Although transportation may be involved as a control mechanism to keep victims in unfamiliar places, sex trafficking does not always involve movement. There are often subtler forms of coercion being used, including victims being physically and socially isolated from their family and friends, or withholding basic necessities like food, water and healthcare.
MYTH #3: For youth who are involved in sex trafficking, it must be their choice or they would run away and seek help.
Victims of trafficking often do not immediately seek help or self-identify as victims. Pimps use a variety of grooming techniques to prey on a victim’s vulnerabilities and leverage them for control, including cultivating drug dependency. Over weeks and months of physical and psychological manipulation, the victim experiences “trauma bonding” and develops an unhealthy loyalty to their pimp. When someone tries to remove a victim from a dangerous trafficking situation, many times they will go back to their pimp because that bond is so strong.
MYTH #4: If families were more vigilant, youth would not get caught up in sex trafficking.
Traffickers are expert manipulators and well-aware of the risk factors that make it easier to coax certain youth into trafficking. They target vulnerable youth on social media, dating apps or in online gaming chat rooms. Some young people are even lured into trafficking by other kids their age, especially those living at treatment centers or group homes. In some cases, there are parents or caregivers who traffic their own children for financial gain. These situations can be difficult to identify because of the complex cycle of abuse and control that has been unaddressed throughout the adults’ lifetime.
MYTH #5: Law enforcement and child protective services are the ones responsible for protecting our youth and putting an end to sex trafficking.
We all have a role to play in protecting our youth. Within our communities, it is essential that parents, neighbors and family friends look out for each other and offer support when it is needed. We must be careful not to judge or shame other parents, but rather, take the time to engage each other in important conversations. We must also educate ourselves about what trafficking really looks like and speak up when we notice any red flags. The conversation around child sex trafficking has been hidden for too long, and it is our job to bring it to the forefront.
Child sex trafficking is one of many threats to the healthy development of Colorado’s children. Over the next few months, Kempe will continue to bring together community partners to help shine a light on these connections and how we can partner as a community to end the cycle of abuse and positively impact child development. We appreciate your support of our efforts to give all children the opportunity to thrive.