Sexual trafficking is largely seen as something that happens abroad, but the underground sex trade is very much alive in the United States – especially for minors, according to a new report from the National Colloquium on Shelter and Services for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Victims.
Human trafficking is a $9.8 billion domestic industry, with at least 100,000 children being used as prostitutes in America each year, according to the report from Shared Hope International, an organization working to eradicate sex trading. Shared Hope presented its findings in a congressional briefing Monday attended by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking and Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Jim Costa, D-Calif., co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Victims' Rights.
To help minors recover from the trauma experienced through sex trafficking, Shared Hope International recommended specialized treatment for each victim and coordination between victim service providers.
A uniform method of treatment is not applicable to every victim, according to the report, and the required treatment environment should change to the extent the survivor embraces the healing process.
Panelist Dale Alton, Executive Director of Georgia Care Connection Office, experienced this first-hand working with survivors of child sex trafficking.
"Every child's need is different," she said.
Also advocating for a variety of treatments was Wilthelma Tiora Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, Human Rights Project for Girls board member and sex trafficking victim. Pettigrew says with multiple therapy options, survivors must learn empowerment on multiple levels.
Acknowledging accomplishments is also key, Pettigrew said. Small victories, like passing a test or deciding to visit a doctor, should be celebrated. For Pettigrew, she felt she achieved success was when she stayed in a treatment facility for more than two days without fleeing.
"When we talk about empowerment, we need to talk about the small accomplishments," Pettigrew said.
Every aspect of a child's life is controlled when they are in the sex trade, so exercising autonomy is critical to recovery.
Another survivor advocate, Marq Taylor, discussed the lack of services for male victims.
In its survey, Shared Hope International found that of the 43 organizations that responded, none provide specialized services exclusively for male victims.
Males won't talk about their abuse, Taylor said, so specialized, gender-specific treatment is important.
Transgender youth are also under provided for, according to the report. The survey results did not reveal exactly how many programs offer residential services for males and transgender youth.