WASHINGTON (BP)–Demands for commercial sex have created a growing market of sex tourism and human trafficking in the United States, with an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children at risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation, according to a new report.
“DEMAND” is both a video documentary and comprehensive report on a 12-month investigation conducted by Shared Hope International. Based in Vancouver, Wash., SHI is a non-profit organization that compiled the information in an effort to understand and bring an end to human trafficking.
Atlanta, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., were chosen for study in the United States because of their high tourism draw and population of troubled teens, which make them ideal destinations for sex tourists.
“U.S. citizens and permanent residents under the age of 18 are increasingly being recruited into the commercial sex markets,” the report says. Runaway children and underage American women are among the most common victims of human trafficking.
“People talk about how awful it is that in a place like Nepal, or in Thailand, you can have a people or a country who can allow their children to be sold, but the reality is it’s no different in Washington, D.C.,” says Derek Ellerman, co-executive director of the Polaris Project, in the documentary.
The report also focuses on the market aspects of the “multi-billion dollar industry,” specifically the society that generates such high volumes of buyers of commercial sex.
“As the culture continues to normalize sexual images and activities, the markets grow,” the study says. “The sexualized popular culture … reduces moral barriers to accessing commercial sex.”
Advertisements, television and music, along with video games that “glamorize pimping and prostitution,” seem to be the culprits, quickly expanding an already large industry, the study says.
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called it “revolting that anyone would think it is acceptable to use these girls and women for their selfish sexual gratification.”
“I have no doubt that this is an extremely difficult problem to resolve, but we cannot let that stop us from catching and prosecuting those engaged in the modern-day slave trade,” Duke told Baptist Press.
The United States, the report says, presents a unique challenge to those combating the sex slave industry: Most Americans are wired.
“With nearly 70 percent of Americans accessing the Internet, the accessibility to commercial sex markets on the Internet is staggering,” according to the report. The web facilitates arrangements for prostitution and allows child pornography to be made easily and inexpensively.
A variety of government agencies and non-governmental organizations have dedicated themselves to creating legislation that assists victims and increases enforcement. One of those laws is the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The FBI, in conjunction with the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children, has also created the Lost Innocence Task Force to infiltrate and apprehend traffickers.
But there is still a need for shelters that provide housing and basic needs for recovering victims of human trafficking. Only 20 percent of the organizations surveyed by SHI had the capacity to house women and children, “citing lack of resources and funding as major obstacles.”
SHI’s commitment to reducing the number of victims who are pulled into human trafficking focuses on one area: demand.
“Too often, police enforcement has focused on the prostitute, with practically no attention given at all to prosecuting the traffickers and so-called customers,” said Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy. “As long as demand exists, there will be unscrupulous people who will be willing to traffic human beings to meet it.”
Awareness is one way SHI hopes to decrease the demand, by revealing the tragedy behind the sex market. “If there were no buyers, there would be no sellers, and there would be no victims,” the documentary says.
To watch “DEMAND,” visit SHI’s website at: http://www.sharedhope.org/what/enddemand3.asp.
Erica Simons is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.