Law enforcement officers come into contact with things that may not be what they seem. On the streets and behind the detective’s desk, officers sort through facts and fiction trying to determine the exact nature of an event and human behaviors and acts. With the right awareness and training, law enforcement officers can see through the murkiest of waters. Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is one area where law enforcement professions need to start clearing the water.
DMST is the commercial exploitation of American children within U.S. borders. Often this crime adorns itself in other criminal clothing such as prostitution, juvenile delinquency or sexual abuse of a minor. Many times the child is charged with a criminal offense instead of being identified as a victim. Along with this criminalization, the trafficker and the buyer often go undiscovered and uncharged. DMST is defined as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act” where the person is less than 18 years old. The age of the child is the identifying element of DMST.
Cultural Glorification of Underage Sexuality
Vitality, innocence and vulnerability are what make minors enticing to certain factions of the population. In DMST, children are psychologically and physically groomed by their slave masters. Victims are isolated, physically and sexually abused, deprived of food and sleep, manipulated and intimidated. Essentially they are coerced by adults to perform sex acts for adults. This process is called “seasoning”. This term, many others, and guidelines to trafficking sex can be found in books purchased on common sites such as Amazon. The glorification of the pimp culture has caused many people to be apathetic to the term and the environment allowing those who actually sell children for a living to do so with an apathetic public. Often minors are groomed into a life of drugs. Once they are addicted, they can be sold to feed their addiction.
Share Hope International estimates that anywhere between 100,000 to 300,000 minors are victimized through prostitution in America every year. The average age when a child enters into DMST is 13 years old. Most first responders state 15 years old is the average age of the minors they come into contact with but the victims state they have been prostituted for several years by the time they come into the juvenile justice or social service system. Healing Places Church in Baton Rouge reported the youngest child they have come into contact with was 8 years old. It’s difficult to compile statistics because of the disparity in reporting criteria and the underground nature of DMST. The internet has allowed DMST to expand and reach more buyers less conspicuously. It has also allowed those who want to engage in sex with minors to find like minded individuals and groups.
Money or Survival
Many DMST victims earn money for their pimp/trafficker or “boyfriend”. Often taxi drivers and other adults buy into the trafficking by transporting buyers to where the minors are in return for getting a cut of the profits. Another common situation is when minors sell sex acts to meet their needs for survival, such as food, clothing, shelter or protection. Run-away and homeless youth are particularly at risk for this type of victimization. Although some would argue there is a mutual benefit they couldn’t be more wrong. When an adult exercises controls over a vulnerable child it is a crime and the child is a victim not a willing participant.
Law Enforcement Issues
Once law enforcement officers realize that DMST is more than simple prostitution or sexual abuse of a child, professionals can make a bigger impact on identifying victims and holding adult participants accountable. There are several key areas where officers can begin to make a difference.