“Trafficking,” including commercial sexual exploitation of children, is receiving widespread attention. But where does it occur and to what degree? Though data can be scarce and inconsistent, we’ve learned from Esther Rodriguez-Brown and the Center for Peace team in Las Vegas that 17 U.S. cities are generally identified as trafficking destinations.
Involvement of youth 12 to 18 is a grim reality in every one. And four states and their urban centers (California, Texas, New York and Nevada) account for the highest trafficking volume. The problem, apparently, is neither lack of awareness nor concern. The core issue is that involvement in “the life” for youth coerced or forced into under-age prostitution becomes the norm due to un-addressed histories of upheaval, treatment of girls as criminals not victims, and voids in social services.
What to do? We’re intrigued by a balance of compassion and logic that Esther and the Center’s inter-disciplinary team of social services and juvenile justice providers seem to bring to this societal wound. They refer to thorough studies that show the potential to get youth back on track with interventions that begin at detention centers, continue with customized case management, and include mental health counseling. They’ve looked at “return on investment” analyses of dollars invested in reform and restoration programs. At the same time, they seem to never lose sight of the intangible and unpredictable impact on an individual’s life when you know someone really cares. Better yet, they model these behaviors themselves.