The U.S. sex trade flourishes: number of enslaved minors increasing

By September 14, 2010

USA (MNN) — What do you think of when you hear the phrase "sex trafficking?" Brothels in Cambodia? Abducted women in South Africa? The 2008 film "Taken"? Whatever your thoughts may be, they are likely focused in impoverished countries filled with women who have no other options.

Yet, this heinous crime and organized trade goes daily unnoticed when it occurs in the United States. That is: unnoticed or unrecognized for what it is. Throughout the rest of this week, Mission Network News will explore what sex trafficking is and how it has infiltrated U.S. soil with our most precious amenities: our children.

The United States is no virgin when it comes to the exploitation of its own children. Modern-day abolitionist York Moore with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship says, "We're all seeing the evolution here in the United States. Ten years ago, when we talked about human trafficking, we were primarily talking about a phenomena that existed outside of the United States. Back in 2001, there was an estimated only 45,000 – 50,000 slaves in the United States."

As shocking as those numbers were ten years ago, they are not nearly as disturbing as the rate at which the crime has grown. Pat McCalla of a ministry to sexually enslaved minors known as "Streetlight" in Phoenix, Arizona says the problem in the U.S. has grown to "anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 underage women being trafficked every year."

Human trafficking is now the second-largest criminal industry in the world after drug trafficking, and it has become the fastest-growing criminal movement. The United States is no exception.

Not only is the degradation climbing higher in sheer numbers, but the ages of victims seem to be getting lower by the year. "We're definitely seeing an evolution in the United States not only in terms of the raw numbers, but also in terms of the appetite for young flesh," says Moore. "It's very disturbing."

McCalla was working on a project for Food for the Hungry when he came face to face with this issue. He knew he had to do something when he discovered, "The average age of entry into child prostitution in both Phoenix and across the U.S. was 13 years old, and that's according to the Department of Justice statistics. I was blown away. I had no idea that tonight, just down the road from where I live or go to church or go to work, that 14, 15, 16-year-old girls would be raped for profit, would be literally working as child sex slaves."

Whether minors are used by family members, abducted by clever traffickers, taken from their suburban beds on a nightly basis, or blackmailed into a life of unending agony, the problem exists all over. "In the last three years, I've visited Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Diego, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver. Every one of those cities has a problem," explains McCalla.

So why is this happening? Who is at risk? Who are the traffickers? What do we do? We will answer all of these questions throughout this four-part series, but the one important factor to keep in mind is perception. Almost every person MNN interviewed for this series agreed that if only the perception of American Christians would change toward those who are prostituted, trapped in pornography or raped for pay, the church could lead the way to abolishing slavery in the United States once and for all.

McCalla is doing all he can through "Streetlight" which provides a safe place for victims of sex trafficking and teaches them of God's unfailing love for them. Streetlight also educates people about the crime in order to prevent more sons and daughters from being enslaved in the 21st century. To learn more about Streetlight, which arose out of a ministry project for Food for the Hungry, click here.

Join us tomorrow to learn what puts a young girl at risk and how she is coaxed and coerced into slavery.

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