This title is inspired by recent research by Cockbain and Wortley[1] into the internal sex trafficking of children. They tell us that, contrary to expectations of sophisticated, expert criminals masterminding the systematic sexual exploitation of children, sex trafficking is characterised by routine activities and everyday associations. This is a crucial point in the education, safeguarding and prevention processes regarding trafficking: the people, places and processes of internal child sex trafficking are unremarkable. The research cautions against sensationalised concepts that may result in truly vulnerable children being overlooked.  Evidence suggests that a key issue in tackling child sex trafficking is raising awareness among professionals in positions who routinely come into contact with children and young people, such as health care workers, welfare workers, educators and caregivers[2][3].

The movement of children and young people for the purpose of sexual exploitation is indeed a global issue, and one which is gradually receiving more recognition within research, politics, the media and legislation. However, more recently, it has been recognised that trafficking is not confined to international borders, but also refers to internal movement within a country (evident within the recent high profile UK cases in Derby, Rochdale and Oxford)[4]. The Institute of Medicine and Research Council in the US, defines the crime as follows:

“Commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors encompass a range of crimes of a sexual nature committed against children and adolescents, including:

  • Recruiting, enticing, harbouring, transporting, providing, obtaining, and/or maintaining (acts that constitute trafficking) a minor for the purpose of sexual exploitation
  • Exploiting a minor through prostitution
  • Exploiting a minor through survival sex (exchanging sex/sexual acts for money or something of value, such as shelter, food or drugs)
  • Using a minor in pornography
  • Exploiting a minor through sex tourism, mail order bride trade and early marriage
  • Exploiting a minor by having her/him perform in sexual venues (e.g. peep shows or strip clubs)” [5]

Mentor, in collaboration with Durham police, have been bringing this information to a wide range of non-specialist professionals though the Intervene to Protect a Child Project (IPC) which is being rolled out across the UK. The IPC project highlights many ways in which child sexual abuse and exploitation can be detected and trains participants to identify those vulnerability factors which are likely to increase a young person’s risk of experiencing sex trafficking. These include, but are not limited to: those who are homeless; living in care; have previous experience of neglect, physical or sexual abuse; those associating with gangs; living in areas with high crime, poverty or transient males; those experiencing substance misuse, behavioural or mental health problems[6][7]. However, caution around clinging to certain stereotypes is also emphasised. In Cockbain and Wortley’s study 86% of the victims were in school or college and 81% were living at home with their family[8]. Accordingly, it is not safe to assume that victims of trafficking are exclusively sourced from the streets or that they have overt vulnerabilities. In the same study, 79% of the victims were white British, perhaps challenging another misconception about ethnic origin of those who are trafficked. Boys are trafficked for sexual exploitation but it is an under recognised and unreported fact. Perhaps misconceptions are one of the reasons why victims of internal trafficking are less likely to be identified than those who are transported across borders[9].

We also need to learn about the perpetrators and challenge perceptions that have not been empirically demonstrated. Those who traffic children are ordinary individuals, men and women, often well known to each other (relatives, friends, neighbours, flat mates and/or colleagues)[10]. Such offender connectivity can belie suspicions when a bona fide connection exists that can mask the true nature of abusive activity. If we are looking for an overt ‘criminal type’ we may well miss the community-based offender in our midst. In a large scale study in the United States where 297 victims were interviewed, it emerged that family played a significant role in the trafficking process, trading their children for material items and/or money.[11] It has been noted that, in some eastern countries, where trafficking and child prostitution for tourists is common, the mode of access to such victims is changing[12].  Brothels are reported to be on the decline with more ‘normal’ venues such as beer gardens, hairdressers and cafés now being the front for the movement and sexual exploitation of children.   One study in the UK found that sourcing victims for trafficking occurred in the course of everyday activities[13] , reminding us that that offenders are opportunistic and that a seemingly benign environment may indeed by a source of victims for traffickers.

Critically, professionals need to ensure that potential victims of child sex trafficking are treated as such: a review of the historical, neurological, and developmental vulnerabilities typical of child sex trafficking victims highlighted their inability to control their choices or escape from a trafficker[14]. However, given the nature of behaviours that may initially bring the victim to law enforcement attention (for example, stealing, illegal border crossings, involvement with drugs and crimes associated with prostitution) too often, victims of child sex trafficking are initially considered perpetrators of crime, rather than victims[15].

 

 

 

[1] Cockbain, E. & Wortley, R. (2015). Everyday atrocities: Does internal (domestic) sex trafficking of British children satisfy the expectations of opportunity theories of crime? Crime Science.

[2] Beck, M. E., Lineer, M. M., Melzer-Lange, M., Simpson, P., Nugent, M., & Rabbitt, A. (2015). Medical providers’ understanding of sex trafficking and their experience of at-risk patients. Paediatrics, 135.

[3] Thompson, B. (2015). Teens and sex trafficking education and awareness workshop for social work and foster care professionals. California State University, Stanislaus.

[4] Cockbain, E. & Wortley, R. (2015). Everyday atrocities: Does internal (domestic) sex trafficking of British children satisfy the expectations of opportunity theories of crime? Crime Science.

[5] Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013. Page 6.

[6] Greenbaum, J. and Crawford – Jakubiak, J. (2015). Child Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Health Care Needs of Victims. Paediatrics, 135.

[7] Thompson, B. (2015). Teens and sex trafficking education and awareness workshop for social work and foster care professionals. California State University, Stanislaus.

[8] Cockbain, E. & Wortley, R. (2015). Everyday atrocities: Does internal (domestic) sex trafficking of British children satisfy the expectations of opportunity theories of crime? Crime Science

[9] Brunovskis A. & Surtees R. (2013). Coming Home, Challenges for trafficked women. Qualitative Social Work, 12 (40

[10] Cockbain, E. & Wortley, R. (2015). Everyday atrocities: Does internal (domestic) sex trafficking of British children satisfy the expectations of opportunity theories of crime? Crime Science.

[11] Smith, L. A., Vardaman, S. H., & Melissa, A. (2009). Snow, The National Report on Domestic Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children.

[12] Rafferty, Y. (2016). Challenges to the rapid identification of children who have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Child Abuse & Neglect, 52, 158-168.

 

[13] [13] Cockbain, E. & Wortley, R. (2015). Everyday atrocities: Does internal (domestic) sex trafficking of British children satisfy the expectations of opportunity theories of crime? Crime Science

 

[14] Reid, J. A., & Jones, S. (2011). Exploited vulnerability: Legal and psychological perspectives on child sex trafficking victims. Victims and Offenders, 6(2), 207-231.

[15] Rafferty, Y. (2016). Challenges to the rapid identification of children who have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Child Abuse & Neglect, 52, 158-168.

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