Child Exploitation is a Bigger Problem Than Some May Think

April 28, 2010

Far too often we see the news reports of children being abused. The details of each case make us wonder what could possess someone to do such horrifying and detestable things to those who are most innocent. These cases of abuse do not occur in some far away country or state. They can happen anywhere, even right here in Connecticut and unfortunately the problem of abuse and exploitation of children only seems to be getting more prevalent.

One area of growing concern involves the human trafficking of minors for purposes of prostitution. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, each year in the United States an estimated 100,000 children, some as young as 11-years-old, are sexually abused through prostitution. There is more and more evidence of the commercial sexual exploitation of children by adults who lure them into the “business” in order to make a profit.

In her testimony before the legislature’s Select Committee on Children, State Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz said that due to its location between New York and Boston “Connecticut has the potential to become a breeding ground for human trafficking.” She also stressed the importance of the state remaining vigilant in combating and deterring trafficking in our state.

One way to do this is to ensure that victims of child prostitution have necessary safeguards in place that will enable them to come forward and get help. Many victims are scared and do not know where to turn. Because they are involved in the act of prostitution they oftentimes do not see themselves as victims and will not come forward even though they were likely coerced into prostituting themselves in the first place.

According to Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc., a statewide organization of community-based rape crisis centers, teen and child survivors of sexual violence “face a myriad of barriers to disclosing their abuse, including fear for their safety, fear for not being believed, and fear of being blamed for their victimization.”

Because of these concerns the state senate last week unanimously passed a bill that will protect children from potential legal harm resulting from sexual exploitation. SB 153, An Act Providing a Safe Harbor for Exploited Children, will shield anyone under the age of 16 from child prostitution laws. Under current law, prostitution is a crime regardless of a person’s age, thus making it difficult for victims to come forward without the fear of themselves being prosecuted. SB 153, of which I am a co-sponsor, creates a presumption that all 16 and 17-year olds alleged to have engaged in prostitution were coerced or enticed.

In effect, the current law SB 153 is seeking to change creates a protective shield for those who exploit children in this manner, many of whom are runaways and are easily preyed upon by those looking to make a profit.
Connecticut’s law enforcement community is dedicated to making sure that all acts of child abuse and exploitation are prevented as best they can. But just as important we need to let victims know that there is a place for them to turn to get help without the fear of being punished. SB 153 is a step in the right direction.