On December 31, 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed January 2013 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.”
Almost 80 percent of human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation, and most of the victims are women and children. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates that at least 100,000 American children are the victims of sex trafficking each year. Young people may be forced into prostitution, pornography, and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation to meet their daily needs for food and shelter; they may be controlled through physical, verbal, or sexual abuse; or they may receive threats of violence against their families.
OJJDP has a longstanding commitment to combating this serious problem—a problem made more challenging by widespread access to the Internet. Established in 1998, OJJDP’s 61 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces represent more than 3,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. They are dedicated to developing effective responses to the online enticement of children by sexual predators, child exploitation, and child obscenity and pornography cases. Since the program's inception, the ICAC task forces have reviewed more than 324,474 complaints of alleged child sexual victimization, resulting in the arrest of more than 33,541 individuals. In addition, approximately 280,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and other professionals have been trained through the ICAC program. The task forces are a critical component of Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.
Following are a few examples of other OJJDP efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of children:
- The OJJDP-supported National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a clearinghouse and resource center that collects and distributes data regarding missing and exploited children. The center offers critical intervention and prevention services to families and supports law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels in cases involving missing and exploited children.
- At the September 2012 meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, members of the working group of OJJDP’s National Girls Institute joined other experts to brief officials from across the federal government on the risk factors that lead girls into the juvenile justice system and to discuss policies and practices at the federal, state, and local levels in need of reform to better meet girls' needs. Child trafficking was a key focus of discussion. The council heard testimony and recommendations from Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, who was sex trafficked for 7 years starting at the age of 10. Today, at age 23, she is a nationally recognized youth advocate and member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Project for Girls.
- In April 2012, OJJDP's AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program convened the Trafficking in Persons Symposium to examine child sex and labor trafficking in the United States. The purpose of the symposium was to gather firsthand knowledge from subject-matter experts to develop training for first responders, juvenile justice personnel, and other child advocates. A recently released report summarizes best practices for responding to child trafficking, as identified by the 127 participants, as well as their recommendations for addressing current challenges. The report served as the foundation for the development of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program’s current training programs for states and communities.
- Through its program, Law Enforcement Strategies for Protecting Children From Commercial Sexual Exploitation, OJJDP is helping four law enforcement agencies—the Bossier City (LA) Marshal’s Office, the Denver (CO) Police Department, the city of San Jose (CA), and the city of Seattle (WA)—improve training and coordination, develop policies and procedures to identify commercial sexual exploitation victims, investigate and prosecute cases against adults who sexually exploit children for commercial purposes, and adopt best practices to intervene appropriately with and serve victims.
- OJJDP’s Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation initiative is assisting three organizations—Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, Inc.; Justice Resource Institute, Inc.; and Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth—in developing or enhancing their mentoring capacity, facilitating outreach efforts, and increasing the availability of direct services for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking.
- OJJDP has funded the Institute of Medicine and the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Academy of Sciences to study the commercial sexual exploitation of minors in the United States. A committee of independent experts will examine, among other topics, the causes and consequences of sex trafficking for both victims and offenders; lessons learned from international, national, state, and local advocacy efforts that contribute to successful intervention and prevention strategies; and the adequacy of current federal and state laws for addressing commercial sexual exploitation and the sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Within the next year, the experts will release a report recommending strategies to respond to the problem; new legislative approaches, if necessary; and a research agenda to guide future studies in this area.
- OJJDP’s bulletin, Effects of Federal Legislation on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, published in 2010, describes the results of a study funded by OJJDP to examine the impact of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 on the prosecution of cases involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The authors draw on cases processed in federal courts between 1998 and 2005 to examine how current laws addressing the commercial sexual exploitation of children are enforced, identify key features of successful prosecutions, and describe how legislation has affected sentences imposed on perpetrators, as well as the legislation's effects on the provision of services to victims.
“OJJDP is committed to working on all fronts—training and technical assistance, programs and services, research, and information—to stop this horrific form of child victimization,” said Melodee Hanes, OJJDP’s Acting Administrator. “We will continue to support youth advocates and communities in their efforts to combat human trafficking and to help child survivors recover and heal.”
To learn more about OJJDP’s training and technical assistance, visit the Web sites of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program. For updates on recent progress in addressing child sex trafficking in the United States, visit the Web site of OJJDP’s Safe Start Center.
An overview of the Office of Justice Programs’ efforts to combat human trafficking is available on the Office’s Web site. For more information about the Attorney General’s National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, visit the Web site of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The text of President Barack Obama’s proclamation of January 2013 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and more information about White House initiatives to end human trafficking are available on the White House Web site.