The two big issues that correlate, foster care and sex-trafficking.
The fact that the child-welfare system has a child sex-trafficking problem is old news thanks to the national spotlight put on prevelance research studies and federal crime statistics, like the FBI’s report report showing that up to 60% of child-sex trafficking survivors recovered in 2013 had been involved in the child welfare system at some point. That number is staggering and has rightfully raised alarm bells to mobilize systems-level changes to the child welfare system. Outreach, awareness, and training initiatives have been rolled out nationwide to educate law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and child-welfare employees about the vulnerabilities of foster care youth and the red flags to help them assess for child-sex trafficking.
While I am certainly happy about the progress we’ve made, thus far, attention on the issue of sex-trafficking among kids in foster care has been almost exclusively on two scenarios: 1) kids who are sold for sex by a trafficker either within or outside of the fostercare home and 2) kids who ran away from their foster care families and engaged in “survival sex” - that is, the trading of sex to meet their basic needs like food and shelter.
I’m here to say there’s another angle we are missing and thus a whole population of sex- trafficked kids who are falling through the cracks. I’m here to talk about the kids who engage in survival sex within their fostercare homes out of fear that their basic needs for things like food, shelter, and clothing will not be met. Like most victims of human trafficking, many kids in fostercare have experienced prior abuse of some kind and often at the hands of the adults who were supposed to be caring for them. These adverse
experiences teach kids in foster care that adults can not be trusted to fulfill their obligations of basic care by providing: shelter, food, warmth, clothing, access to a shower/bath and feminine hygiene products just to name a few. The fact that these children have already likely been denied some or all of these things at some point makes them highly vulnerable to future coercion by any adult, but especially those who are charged with their care. And like many victims in pimp controlled sex-trafficking situations, kids in fostercare are moved around frequently, increasing their vulnerability to abuse and heightening barriers to reaching out for help.
I’ve worked with countless kids who have experienced sex abuse and or sex trafficking in their fostercare homes and it doesn’t always involve a pimp and it doesn’t always involve an exchange of money, but instead involves the exchange of sex for something of commercial value. It looks like a foster parent telling a child that if they don’t engage in a sex act, they won’t get to eat. I’ve seen kids who were locked in cages as both a grooming process which instills fear and obiedience and as punishment for refusal to comply with the adult’s demand for sex. If a fostercare child has to engage in sexual activity in order to eat they are engaging in survival sex as it is outlined in the TVPA. We’ve been calling this child sex abuse. It’s time to start calling it for what it is: child sex-trafficking.