….The studio was recently invited to attend a charity event to raise awareness of the international scourge of sex trafficking of children, to be held in Philadelphia at the Salt Art Gallery, on November 14th, 2009. Ms. Kristin Huggins, a former student of Temple University is part of a group of young women who volunteer their time and energy to raise funds to thwart this growing international problem. Kristin took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about the cause for our readership.
TW: How did you become involved in History Starts Now?
KH: The movie Traffic brought this issue to the center of my conscience, and when I heard about the charity, History Starts Now. They put out a casting call for models to walk in their Fashion Gives Back yearly event. They ended up needing me for more volunteering, and I signed up to help organize their events. History Starts Now’s focus is twofold: spreading awareness of the enormity and horror of this crime, and raising money to fight this problem legally. We feel that the most effective way to stop sexual slavery is through the legal system. Very few buyers are successfully prosecuted. Less than ten percent of all arrests related to this crime are the clients, and over 61 percent of cases pursued are thrown out of court. Until the demand for underage prostitutes is curtailed, our nation’s children are at risk. One organization we work with on these issues is Redlight Children’s Campaign, which is headed by attorney, NYU professor, and Priority Films founder, Guy Jacobson. While people often hear of these crimes occurring in Southeast Asia, Columbia, and Eastern Europe, the media often overlooks how many American kids are victimized each year. History Starts Now’s primary focus is American children.
TW: I hear about it all the time in the news these days, which likely make’s the issue more like a pandemic, it’s spreading across many borders.
KH: According to Unicef, over 2 million children and young women are implicated worldwide in sex trafficking. Interpol considers this to be the third largest international criminal activity, but other groups feel it is second only to drug trafficking. Estimates on the revenue generated vary widely, as so much goes untracked. Anywhere from 9 to 20 billion is generated each year from sex trafficking.
TW: What is the age range of the victims of this type of crime?
KH: In America, the average age of entry is 12 to 14 years old. Victims under 10 are less common but definitely exist within our own country’s borders. According to a study by Shared Hope International, the average age of entry correlates to the average age of runaways. The most common form of underage prostitution is survival sex; the victim feels compelled to perform sexual acts for food, shelter, or some other “necessity.” One Nevada treatment center discovered that roughly 30% of the victims they encountered were originally pimped by a family member. A 2006 Shared Hope International report financed by the U.S. Department of Justice proclaimed that incest was a training ground for underage prostitutes; some agencies claimed over 70% of all child prostitutes they encountered were sexually abused. Over 90% were supposedly physically abused.
TW: Which criminal element or organized crime group is at the head of the trafficking or are there a number of groups in the US and abroad?
KH: There is no singular crime entity at the root of this industry. There are many. In America, gangs often connect with female runaways, systematically hooking young women on drugs, while offering them “protection.” When they feel their victims are dependent on them, they force these young women to prostitute themselves in exchange for drugs and “protection.”
The pimp model is common. Their handlers often have a dozen adolescents that they manage, relying on a network of fellow pimps and facilitators to make their operations feasible and profitable. Sex traffickers communicate to each other, letting each other know where they can sell without police interference. Facilitators include taxi drivers that direct customers to the location of victims, government and law enforcement officials that create, sustain, and enlarge loopholes, making these crimes profitable, and online websites that encourage pedophilia fantasies, harvesting the next generation of customers, often directing them to in-person stimuli.
Another significant trend in this dark industry is moving the “merchandise” off the streets, making use of the Internets cloak of anonymity.Children are circulated through circuits, usually specific truck stops, hotels, and motels that have been scoped out. Facilitators help to connect potential customers to the pimps, thus preventing crackdowns by local law enforcement. Minors in group homes and foster care are targeted, often being lured in by an older boyfriend/friend promising love and affection.
TW: Does the crime impact primarily females or males as well?
KH: American boys are also victimized in this industry. In the book, For Money or Love: Boy Prostitution in America, Robert Lloyd estimated that 300,000 boys are being trafficked right now in America. Referred to as chickens, they have similar profiles as their female counterparts, including a history of incest, mental, and physical abuse. While they are usually in “gay” capitals. it isn’t unheard of in small towns.
Sexual abuse plays a huge role in creating boy prostitutes. On average, their first sexual experience, typically with an older male partner, is at 9.6 years old. Most enter the business after running away, feeling conflicted over their supposed sexual identity, and unable to turn to their parents for guidance. Sadly, about half of these boys are thrown out for their “sexual identity”, when in fact, they were usually coerced into their initial encounters by sexual predators.