In any given year, 250,000 children are victimized for commercial sexual exploitation. They are forced to have sex with adult predators, mostly men, who are willing to pay to have sex with children. This money does not go to the children; it lines the pockets of pimps, the traffickers of human beings, or it fuels criminal syndicates.
This industry of exploitation is extremely lucrative: each victim can yield revenue of over $200,000 per year. Human trafficking is thought to be the second most lucrative criminal enterprise in the world today, after drug trafficking. Less than 20,000 of these juvenile victims of trafficking are foreign victims. Therefore, more than 12 of every 13 victims of human trafficking in the United States is an American child. These 250,000 juvenile victims of commercial sex exploitation constitute the largest population of unserved people in dire need in the nation today.
Victims have been profoundly traumatized; subjected to serial rape, physical abuse, psychological abuse, constant fear, and receive little or no health care. Many are addicted to drugs and alcohol, balms that get them through the day and are tools of control. Juvenile victims are particularly susceptible to traumatic bonding (aka the Stockholm Syndrome), in which the victim of abuse becomes so grateful for the meager expressions of love from the abuser that he or she is unable to leave the abuser. This is why the victims “don’t just leave;” it also explains why the victims do not call the police for help. Furthermore, once these women reach the age of 18 they are viewed as just a prostitute without compassion or understanding of the realities of their long term abuse.
Kansas City’s share of this human misery is 1,650 juvenile victims who are exploited through commercial sex. . One of our partners estimates that of the 3,000 children in foster care in Johnson County, Kansas (one of four counties in the Kansas portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area), 40% have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation or 1,200 – so our estimate may be conservative. In Kansas, 4,735 runaway cases were reported to the police last year, while the actual number of missing child episodes was on the order of 14,500. In Missouri, 9,692 runaway cases were reported to the police last year, while the actual number of missing child episodes was on the order of 30,000.
This is not a problem law enforcement can handle alone. The American model of law enforcement is predicated on the victim of a crime calling the police to report what has happened to them, yet juvenile victims of commercial sexual exploitation rarely call the police. Neither should we look to federal law enforcement to do more than it is currently doing. In order to eradicate the practice of juvenile exploitation, we need law enforcement agencies and community organizations to collaborate in unfamiliar ways in the identification, rescue, and restoration of victims.
KC CASE is one answer to using collaborative practices to combat juvenile exploitation. This happens through the model city initiative which puts into place a continuum of response in one center. The goal is to create an environment in a single community that is so inhospitable to exploitation that the crime withers away. Once they achieve an empirical demonstration of success, the model can be self-replicated in other communities.
Modeling Success: The Model City Initiative
There is no “silver bullet” for the eradication of juvenile exploitation; rather, this goal calls for a multifaceted approach. There are many promising innovations in the fight against juvenile exploitation in various communities across the country, but no single place where all of the necessary programs, activities and policies—a comprehensive continuum of response—are being implemented. The principle underlying the “continuum of response” strategy is that a variety of activities, programs and policies must be in place in order for the practice of commercial sexual exploitation to be substantially diminished. These considerations led to the “Model City” strategy, which is operationalized through a 29-element action plan.
The primary part of this model city is the Kansas City Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation. By enacting the Model City action plan in Kansas City, we will show that a community can end juvenile exploitation, leading the way for other communities to follow suit.
This strategy started with convening the “Call for Community Action” conference in March 2010 at the Kansas City Police Academy, which brought together 250 attendees from law enforcement, local and federal government, social service organizations, and religious groups to hear about the latest advances in techniques for victim detection, rehabilitation, and methods of criminal investigation. But just as importantly, the participants began a discussion of how to collaborate in the detection of victims, which we estimate to number 1,650 in the Kansas City metro area.
After the conference, KC CASE was formed with the participation of more than 20 representatives of leading NGOs and law enforcement agencies. From this it was determined that there is a need to construct a dedicated shelter and service center for juvenile victims of exploitation. We are expanding street outreach activities in order to find victims, and we are undertaking research among victims to develop new techniques of detection. In short, we are systematically putting in place each of the elements of the Model City action plan.
The current phase of the action plan is to systematically consider how all the apparatuses of state government can be used to identify and respond to victims. For example Child Protective Services has a role as does every agency with juvenile clients (including the juvenile justice system) who should be screening for victims.
Five key elements make up this model:
Restoration of Victims
Local Government Action
Research on the Nature and Extent of the Problem in the Community
1. Identifying Victims, Prosecuting Perpetrators
The ultimate criterion of success for this project must be the number of victims rescued from exploitation and restored to independent living. In the identification and rescue of victims, there is a large role for local law enforcement agencies (LLEAs) – but an even larger role for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Veronica’s Voice.
Elements: Increase Outreach. Research the Exploitation “Tracks,” Research Internet-Based Marketing of Victims in KC, Develop Victim Detection through Truancy Lists, Law Enforcement/NGO Working Group, Impact Law Enforcement Priorities, Law Enforcement Trainings
2. Restoration of Victims
We have an obvious obligation to help those victims we find to rebuild their lives and become capable of independent living. This obligation is both moral and practical – practical because if there are not viable alternatives to living in exploitation, we cannot expect victims to seek to escape. And we have learned that the lack of services is a significant impediment to law enforcement agencies doing more to rescue victims.
Elements: Victim Services Protocol, Filling Service Gaps for Victims, Group Therapy for Juvenile or Near-Juvenile Victims, Victims Census, Study of Johns, Construction of Dedicated Facility
3. Demand Reduction
Elements: Expand Veronica’s Voice “Johns’ School”, Treatment Referral to Johns, Others Addicted to Pornography, Define Demand Reduction Strategy
4. Creating an Inhospitable Environment for Commercial Exploitation through Local Government Action
Create the best possible legal environment for fighting juvenile exploitation in Kansas and Missouri by modifying state laws pertaining to trafficking, juvenile sexual exploitation, and age of consent.
Elements: Catalog Exploitative Businesses, Use Municipal Tools to Isolate SOBs, Interview SOB Employees, Zero Tolerance for Exploitation by Municipal Employees, Discourage SOB Advertising, Screen for Victims in Juvenile Programs, Draft Plan for State Government Role in Ending Exploitation, Convene a working group to define other ways in which the apparatuses of state government can be used to decrease the extent of juvenile exploitation.
5. Research on the Nature and Extent of the Problem in the Community
Replicate the Project: Chronicle the “model city” project implementation so that it can be replicated at other sites.
Why We Must Fight
The estimated 1,650 juvenile victims in the Kansas City metro area, and the hundreds of thousands more across the country, are victims not only of pimps and johns, but also of an ugly mash of cultural forces—our country’s weak and broken families, leading to abused and unloved children, as well as a pornography epidemic and its attendant sex addiction—combined with the failure of community and government institutions to respond effectively.