KEVIN BALES, PROFESSOR & CO-AUTHOR OF THE GLOBAL SLAVERY INDEX
There are an estimated 40.3 million slaves in the world today generating annual profits of $150 billion, according to a report released by the International Labor Organization in 2017. Roughly 4.8 million are forced into commercial sex, and it is estimated that about 20% of these victims are children. That means there are close to 1 million child victims of the commercial sexual exploitation globally, 99% of whom are girls. The world’s poorest are the most vulnerable, but there is virtually no one safe from becoming a trafficking victim. The societal disease is nuanced, sophisticated, and growing.
When the topic of sex trafficking comes up, it typically conjures up the image of impoverished girls in developing countries wearing chains, unable to help themselves. This image may be a reality in some cases, but this is not representative of the majority of minor sexual exploitation and trafficking in the United States. Here, the problem lies in plain sight, disguising itself in less obvious ways than in developing countries. According to a report released by Thorn, the most commonly reported age of entry into prostitution is 15 years old, but 1 in 6 victims are under the age of 12 when they are first sexually exploited. Traffickers often feed on vulnerable populations such as youth who have been previously abused, children in the foster care system, and runaways. The FBI reports that roughly 447,000 U.S. children went missing in 2016, an increasing trend from numbers recorded in previous years. In Dallas and Tarrant counties alone, the Texas Crime Information Center reported 8,680 missing children cases in 2017 in the “TCIC Yearly Report of Missing Persons Entered by County.” This number includes reported runaway children; however, many runaway youth are never reported which means this number is likely much higher. In 2016, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.
Unfortunately, just like in any other industry, demand fuels supply. The internet has driven much of the growth in DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking) through the use of websites such as Backpage and other online advertising. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of all the child sex trafficking reports submitted by members of the public to the CyberTipline, more than seventy-one percent (71%) relate to Backpage ads. In a study done by Arizona State University, it was found that, on average, 1 out of every 20 adult males in a metropolitan city area was soliciting online sex ads. The sexual exploitation of minors in the U.S. is modern, common, and active in all major U.S. cities.
Since Arcadia will be positioned in the DFW area, we want to highlight how the sexual exploitation of minors has impacted Texas. Texas is the #2 state in the country, in regards to the number of cases received by the Human Trafficking Hotline reporting the sexual exploitation of minors. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, sits at the dark intersection of two major sex trafficking corridors: The Texas Triangle (DFW, Houston, San Antonio) and the I-20 Corridor (starting in DFW and stretching East to South Carolina). Despite the pressing problem, the state of Texas has less than 30 specialized beds available for minors recovering from this traumatizing lifestyle. Thirty.
Task forces of all kinds across Texas are inundated with calls and cases, typically more than they can handle. The Human Trafficking Hotline reported in the first half of 2017– in only 6 months– Texas had already received 1,142 calls and 433 cases. The number of cases has displayed a trend in growth every year. Unfortunately, police departments in our largest cities rarely have enough officers to manage the epidemic. Moreover, for the few assigned officers, investigating cases is remarkably difficult because of how complex trafficking cases can be and how few resources exist. Because of the lack of specialized aftercare in the continuum of care for survivors of sex trafficking, officers often struggle to place survivors and face high recidivism rates. According to Kenneth W. Dean, Assistance Chief of Fort Worth Police Department, “The success as we move forward will be the aftercare, and will be the people, the advocacy groups who will be taking care of these victims, so the recidivism rates will not climb. That is absolutely critical.”