U.S. PREVENTION EDUCATION PROGRAM
Child Sex Trafficking in America
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 100,000 American children are victimized through commercial sexual exploitation every year. Commercial sexual exploitation of any minor under the age of 18 is legally a form of human trafficking under the Trafficking in Persons Victim Protection Act. Tragically, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the average age of children trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. is 13.
Human traffickers and pimps play on the vulnerability, lack of knowledge, and desires of children to lure them into the violent world of commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution and pornography. Though many youth are at risk of trafficking solely by their age and gender, there is a subpopulation of youth who are most vulnerable. This includes but is not limited to those with a history of family dysfunction, trauma & sexual abuse, running away from home or various settings and substance abuse.
Love146’s work in Connecticut is motivated by documented cases of domestic minor sex trafficking in the state. We learned of victims “controlled through physical and psychological coercion, beatings, rapes, confinement, threats of serious harm, intimidation, and humiliation” (U.S. Attorneys Office, 2007).
Two survivors shared their stories at the sentencing of their trafficker:
“He would decide what I ate, how my hair would look, and what I wore. I felt like a slave. I wanted to be loved. That’s what I was searching for. I wanted someone who would always be there for me because I never, ever had this.”
“When I went to clubs, I had to tell people I fell off stage because I had so many bruises on my ribs, face, and legs. He would watch me or have me watched by someone else to make sure that I was working and not trying to runaway.”
Reaching American Children Before Sex Traffickers Do
In order to reach American children before sex traffickers do, Love146 has spent the last two years conducting prevention education in Connecticut high schools, group homes and residential care facilities. Empowering children through education prior to involvement in commercial sexual exploitation is absolutely necessary in preventing them from being trafficked into a life of sexual violence, commodification and utter misery. Children need to be aware of the tactics of traffickers, the signs of exploitation, and the services available to them should they find themselves in at-risk or exploitative situations.
We do this primarily through two curriculums: Tell Your Friends and My Life, My Choice.
Tell Your Friends
Tell Your Friends is a four-week educational workshop series that takes place inside a middle or high school. Each workshop is 45 minutes long and is designed to facilitate discussion with teens on their perceptions of healthy and unhealthy dating relationships, commercial sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. Training and support for teachers and staff is also provided to ensure they can identify and assist high-risk or exploited teens. In an effort to combat commercial sexual exploitation, Love146 believes that it is important to train and educate youth about this issue while they are still in school. Providing the education and support prior to a level of involvement in commercial sexual exploitation is vital as there is an existing community that they are still connected to, and consequently have support enough to protect themselves while also serving as peer advisors for friends that are no longer in the school system.
My Life, My Choice
My Life, My Choice is a ten-session curriculum. Each session is 75 minutes long and is created to dispel myths about commercial sexual exploitation, build awareness of recruitment tactics by pimps, provide information on sexual health, understand the link between substance use and exploitation—how it can pull you in and how it can keep you there, raise awareness of resources and a path out of “The Life”, and help to improve self-esteem. My Life My Choice is meant specifically for agencies or organizations in which the adolescents have a therapist to follow up with after the group as the curriculum can be quite intense for some. The program also trains the staff that works directly with the children that are about to receive the group so they can identify victims and they are properly educated around the issue should a girl chose to disclose abuse. Love146 utilizes the My Life My Choice curriculum exclusively in group homes, congregate care/treatment programs, Connecticut Department of Children & Family offices, community-based settings and juvenile justice centers.
Lisa Goldblatt-Grace and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation created My Life My Choice and designed the curriculum to reach adolescent girls most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation or for those who have already been exploited to prevent re-victimization.