The crime of human trafficking is one of the most egregious human rights violations and it is happening in our own communities. Some victims are lured into the United States with false promises of legitimate work, only to be forced into the sex industry. Others are runaway teens, taken in by traffickers and forced to trade sex for a place to sleep. Victims include children trafficked by family members and girls recruited by a “boyfriend” who turns out to be a pimp.
We are not immune in Idaho. Last June, a Boise man was prosecuted for advertising on Internet sites that his 3-year-old daughter was available for sex. Only two months ago, another man pled guilty to obstructing an investigation. He had solicited others to destroy evidence of his involvement in transporting a 15-year-old Washington runaway for prostitution.
Worldwide it is estimated that 1 million children - 300,000 in the U.S. alone - are sexually exploited annually. The average age of girls forced into the sex trade is between 12 and 14. These children often endure unconscionable violence.
Human trafficking can be difficult to identify and track. The Internet has taken much of the sex trade off the streets and into hotel rooms, out of sight of law enforcement and social services. Websites promoting prostitution make profits by offering anonymity to traffickers and further victimizing children.
In 2006, the Idaho Legislature enacted enhanced penalties for human traffickers convicted of certain other offenses and created a special restitution provision for human trafficking victims. As part of this legislative effort, my office and the Department of Health and Welfare reported on how existing laws and social service programs respond to the needs of trafficking victims. Our report suggested areas for improvement in our laws and identified the need for additional public education.
My office works to educate Idahoans through its membership in the Idaho Network to End Domestic Violence & Sex Trafficking Against Immigrants and Refugees. We also work with the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission to recommend improvements to Idaho’s human trafficking laws. In addition, the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which is coordinated through the Attorney General’s Office, identifies and prosecutes criminals who exploit children over the Internet. The Task Force also provides law enforcement training, including training on child victims in the sex industry.
Success in reducing the demand for commercial sex must be built on a simple, solid foundation: societal change requires information. Just as domestic violence was for too long a topic broached only behind closed doors, bringing the tragedy of human trafficking to the public eye is an important first step. Despite what you hear from popular music, movies and television, don’t believe that selling sex is just another career choice. Most prostitutes lead an extremely dangerous, often violent and usually shortened life. They die at an average age of 34. Many aren’t willing participants. The stark reality is that many aren’t even old enough to consent to sex.
If you wish to join the fight against human trafficking, consider offering your time and financial support to charities that provide services to victims. Men can speak out against johns who purchase individuals for sex. Parents, parent-teacher organizations and schools can help educate children about how to protect themselves online. Doctors, nurses, and hospitality and travel industry workers can seek training to identify victims and help them access services. Each of us can do something to combat human trafficking.