Imagine being confined behind bars and razor wire. You have been there for upwards of 30 days. But you are a victim, not the perpetrator, of a horrible crime.
This would be a nightmare, right?
Now imagine this scenario as seen through the eyes of child victims of human trafficking. Being confined in a juvenile detention center or deep-end commitment program after their rescue is not a bad dream, but a horrifying reality.
Florida’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children are Suffering
Jane* is just one child victim of sex trafficking. When her plight was recently brought to the attention of The Children’s Campaign, she had been languishing in a detention center for a month even though all professionals involved agreed she needed specialized care.
Although Jane is 15-years old, she was sold into a life of brutality and sex for sale at age 10 by her mother for some quick money. She was beaten, intimidated, and ultimately forced to do things she never would have dreamed of doing.
“In many ways, commercial sexual exploitation of children is nothing short of modern day slavery,” said Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign, Florida’s leading nonpartisan child advocacy organization. “Hundreds and hundreds or even higher numbers of girls and boys are trafficked throughout Florida and across state lines each year. The lucky few escape or are rescued.”
When Jane was rescued for the first time in 2014, she was placed in a therapeutic program for commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC). There, she felt safe because “she didn’t have to be raped every day.” She connected with her counselors and thrived.
Rescued Victims Languish in Juvenile Detention and Commitment Programs
Earlier this year, shortly after release from the therapeutic program, she was kidnapped by traffickers again. She missed school because of her abduction, which violated her probation.
Even though she was lucky to escape three weeks later, and helped law enforcement arrest the traffickers, she was placed in juvenile detention rather than a therapeutic program. Why? Both juvenile justice and child welfare authorities claimed “there is no money available” for a therapeutic CSEC bed for Jane. She also had no private insurance or financial means to cover the treatment costs herself.
The judge, it appeared, believed few options were available. If a therapeutic CSEC bed could not be found, Jane would be sent to a longer term lock-up “for her own protection.”
Because traffickers have often subjected their victims to extreme methods of psychological and physical control, places like detention centers or commitment programs can cause them further trauma.
“These settings feature high levels of structure and control. They do what they’re supposed to do, but they’re not designed to provide a strengths-based, trauma-informed therapeutic environment that sex trafficking victims need,” said Vicky Basra, vice president of community & program development for Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.
Services Lacking in Many Parts of Florida
What happened to Jane is not uncommon. Although Florida has some of the strongest human trafficking laws in the country, appropriate services are lacking throughout the state.
“More and more, professionals seeking help for children reach out to us because they’re at the end of their rope. They’ve burned through their rolodex and email lists. Treatment costs, lack of service availability, and the complex system that must be navigated are the frustrations we hear most often,” Miller stated. “I believe it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Basra also believes the problem is wider spread than many care to imagine.
“In Northeast Florida, we only have a very small number of foster homes for victims of sex trafficking,” she shared. “Since foster homes are not the right placement for every victim, many local children are being sent out of our community.”
Coming in Part Two:
- Community kids falling through cracks of mainstream systems
- Victims sent out of state for treatment
- Open Doors, a first responder network for commercially sexually exploited children
** Name changed to protect the victim’s identity.
This Top Story brought to you by Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori and Tiffany McGlinchey