What Do We Know About Endangered Runaways and Trafficking?

We know it’s a life that significantly marginalizes the safety of every child who runs away. Recent studies show children as young as 12 years old are targeted by sex traffickers and estimates as many as 325,000 children in the US, Canada and Mexico who run away from home are at risk each year for becoming victims of sexual assault.

Many runaways are so desperate for basic needs such as housing or a meal; they are willing to do things they would normally not consider. Predators in the sex trafficking industry use this level of desperation to manipulate children, often bribing them with small rewards such as food, to groom them for exploitation. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children approximately one in seven endangered runaways will become victims of sex trafficking in the United States.

Before the child knows it, they have become the “property” of vicious and unscrupulous sex traffickers and are fully immersed in prostitution without any way to get out of the situation. To compound matters; after a child victim has become reliant on the sex trafficker for all their basic needs they are less likely to accept outside help for fear their connection to basic needs may be cut off by the person exploiting them.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is that law enforcement has traditionally treated these young victims of sex trafficking as criminals, charging them with prostitution when they are caught. This approach fails to recognize these children are actually abuse victims who are being expertly manipulated and forced to provide sexual services. It also makes recovering from life on the streets more difficult because now they have a criminal record.

What is Being Done to Help These Victims of Sex Trafficking?

There is a small, but significant, amount of good news on this subject. Over the last few years there has been a growing movement in the legal system to classify these children as victims. With that re-classification comes an emerging expertise in working with these children to help them free themselves from their abusive lives. These changes in approach can change everything for these young victims of sexual assault and trafficking.

Additionally, State’s Attorneys General and the FBI are beginning to speak out on this problem of runaway children being kidnapped into prostitution. There are a number of organizations that help runaways/thrownaways, some of which specialize in counseling girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking including GEMS (http://www.gems-girls.org) and Polaris Project http://www.polarisproject.org

The Polly Klaas Foundation (PKF) would like to remind our community, our nation and the world that every child matters. A staggering 85% of PKF’s missing children cases are considered endangered runaways and if the statistic holds true that one and seven runaways will become victims of trafficking we are working on the frontlines of the trafficking of minors epidemic in the United States. PKF is committed to helping to recover these children and providing them with resources to return home when appropriate, or guide them to resources that can help these most vulnerable children.

PKF is proud to announce that we are official members of the Sonoma County Sex Trafficking Task Force as of May of 2014. This multidisciplinary team is comprised of members from law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office and community based organizations.

What is needed most right now is funding so that more effective and compassionate programs can be delivered to these endangered boys and girls.

We’re providing this information so you understand the life changing hazards that can occur for a child who runs away. If this should happen to your child, you, one of your friends or anyone you know - please take action: make your first call to the police, and your second call to the Polly Klaas Foundation. We are here to help you 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. A professional and compassionate person will always answer our phones and provide you or any caller with the resources you need to find a path home. Our 24/7 HOTLINE is 800-587-4357.

Resources:

National Human Trafficking Resource Center - The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) is a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733) to:

  • Get help and connect with a service provider in your area;
  • Provide information on potential human trafficking activity; or
  • Learn more by requesting training, technical assistance, or resources.

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