Operation Cross Country is a recent national human trafficking raid that located and recovered over 200 victims, most of them being children, just within the first two weeks of August. Chief Jose Perez, who oversees violent crime investigations in the FBI, said that “the initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking.” (fbi.gov) By identifying certain areas that the FBI knows sex trafficking is prevalent, they are able proceed using their resources and local partners to rescue the victims from these places. What exactly does child trafficking entail, who is a part of it and what does it mean to be a victim? According to the American Bar Association, “child trafficking cases can occur in metropolitan areas, wealthy suburbs, and rural areas. Traffickers can be family members, acquaintances, intimate partners, or strangers. Child trafficking investigations have occurred in every state. Child trafficking cases may be single-victim cases, or they may involve multiple victims. Sometimes, multiple-victim cases involve groups of victims that include both minors and adults.” (ABA) As this highlights, traffickers can be close to the victims, making them an even more vulnerable and high-risk population in society.
An even more staggering statistic is the fact that child trafficking continues to increase over the years, taking place in all states of the country. According to UNICEF, “Natural Human Trafficking Hotline statistics show a 25% jump in human trafficking cases from 2017 to 2018. This includes sex and labor trafficking.” (UNICEF) While there is a common perception that human trafficking involves mostly undocumented or foreign immigrants, the fact of the matter is that the majority of victims are U.S. citizens. Victims are also scouted and sold through online platforms and URLs. As UNICEF depicts, “92% of all child sexual abuse URLs are hosted by 5 countries in the world, one of which is the US.” (UNICEF) According to Liberate Children, the average age of child victims is between 12 and 14 years old, with kids as young as 3 being rescued as well. “It is hard to imagine how anyone could stomach being involved with this, but it is a fact. Most children who are trafficked for sex work are between the ages of 12 and 14 years old. A significant percentage of these children are runaways who were abused sexually at younger ages.” (Liberate Children)
To be clear, child trafficking, and any trafficking in general, does not occur in underground basements which are hidden from the public eye. “Human trafficking cases have been reported and prosecuted in industries including restaurants, cleaning services, construction, factories, and more.” (Polaris Project) Seeing that this phenomenon is occurring in such common and frequented venues, why is children trafficking so prevalent, and increasing with time? Let’s take a closer look at who the perpetrators are. According to the Polaris Project, traffickers come from diverse backgrounds and fields. “Some use their privilege, wealth, and power as a means of control while others experience the same socio-economic oppression as their victims. They include individuals, business owners, members of a gang or network, parents or family members of victims, intimate partners, owners of farms or restaurants, and powerful corporate executives and government representatives.” (Polaris Project) Using distinct control tactics, these perpetrators are able to physically and emotionally abuse and threat victims to follow their orders and stay with them.
This symposium seeks to provide a space for policymakers, academics, researchers, victims, law enforcements and families to critically analyze the issues underlying child human trafficking, assess the frequency and statistics, as well as evaluate the recent Operation Cross Country raids and its results. Additionally, this discussion will allow space to examine current policy solutions in place and what leaders can do to better stop the frequency of child trafficking and help victims once they are rescued.
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