Linking Childhood Sexual Abuse to Sex Trafficking

Most people reading this article already know about and maybe even advocate for victims of sex trafficking. But many readers do not know about its correlation to childhood sexual abuse. Indeed, no other factor increases a girl or boy’s vulnerability to trafficking more than the memory of such abuse. [1]

According to a report by the National Institute of Justice, victims of sexual abuse are 28 times more likely than their peers to fall for the tricks of sex traffickers. A study of women arrested for prostitution in Boston found that 68 percent had been sexually abused before their tenth birthdays.[2] But why?I can sense their insecurity and I know where it comes from.

For one, they stand out. A friend of mine, who endured childhood abuse but fortunately was never trafficked, can spot someone with a history of abuse in a church pew or a shopping mall. “I can sense their insecurity,” she says, “and I know where it comes from.” Unfortunately, fellow abuse victims are not the only ones who can pick up on these cues. Exploiters do too. I once heard an ex-pimp compare identifying abuse victims to catching fish in a barrel. Pimps strategically target youth (the average age of entry into prostitution is 14) who have already been abused because they are more likely to accept the terms of prostitution. The work of convincing her of the lie that she lacks value, and therefore is not worthy of love or protection, has been done for them.

Also, if one of a child’s formative relationships was made with an abuser, attaching to an abusive pimp often feels familiar rather than repulsive. Their craving for love and tolerance for mistreatment makes them quicker to settle for unhealthy relationships. Still, with or without a history of abuse, teens do not typically think of prostituting themselves on their own; the idea is introduced to them by a recruiter.

To someone who already feels reduced to a commodity, the proposition of selling his or her body becomes more palatable. While someone without an abusive past might respond, “I have never done that before. Why would I do it with a stranger?” or “I make my own choices. I am not for sale,” someone with a history of abuse may reason, “Oh, I can get paid for what has been taken from me for free?” I can sense their insecurity and I know where it comes from. (5)There is a false freedom in believing she is at least choosing this life rather than again succumbing, powerless.

But, according to the law, she is not choosing. Legally, a 14 year old is not old enough to consent to engaging in sexual acts, much less prostitution. Thus the U.S. State Department automatically tags prostitution of minors as sex trafficking, no proof of “force, fraud or coercion” required. There is no such thing as a “child prostitute.” And many adult “prostitutes” entered as hurting children.

Many adult victims of sexual abuse, who never became victims of sex trafficking, are still hurting. And such abuse is more common and menacing than many people realize. Statistically speaking, one in five people reading this article have been abused.[3] The impact of such exploitation is deep and rippling. The experience can leave victims feeling devalued, anxious and trapped under the lie of shame. Many long for a wholeness and unity they feel they can never attain. So they sit in fearful quiet, anticipating awkward reactions and judgment if they ever told their past. Christian neighbors must step up to remind them of the truth their hearts have forgotten: they are rescued, spotless and worthy of love. Adult victims need friends to share their burden and be a fount of hope and strength to press on in believing the abuse was not their fault and they are valuable. Youth victims need mentors to show them their great worth before traffickers get a foothold.

Innocence PAINT

Any work against sexual abuse simultaneously combats sex trafficking because a children who knows their high value are less likely to fall for a trafficker’s tricks. God prizes them highly. They are sacred and completely beautiful regardless of any decisions made or forced upon them. Though innocence can be lost, purity can always be reinstated by Christ, our redeemer.

God uses people as His handiwork to help the hurting thrive. Hundreds of organizations nationwide combat both sexual abuse and sex trafficking by: educating children and families, training community members and professionals (teachers, nurses, police…) to identify victims, intervening in identified cases, counseling to restore victims hearts and lives, coaching to transform abusers hearts and actions, and equipping communities to support them all. Contact your local United Way agency to connect with a program in your community.

 

NOTE: There is no one size fits all when it comes to trafficking. Individuals’ personalities, backstories and circumstances vary too broadly. Some trafficking victims are more susceptible to the facade of love, some are lured in by drugs, some are forced against their will, and many children are sold by a family member. But since basic needs for love and provision do not vary, certain trends exist. And sexual abuse is one of those trends. Also, in this article, I used the pronoun, she, but many boys experience both trafficking and abuse. 

To learn more about the effects of childhood sexual abuse, read Christian counselor, Dan Allender’s book, Wounded Heart. His book is helpful both of victims themselves and for others seeking to better understand their struggle and needs.

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[1] The Link: Connecting Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare

[2]  The Link: Connecting Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare

[3] The U.S. Department of Justice NSOPW: Facts and Statistics

 

 

RELATED POSTS:

About Sex Trafficking in America

Addressing Forced Prostitution of Local Youth

 

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Heatherpaige

Heather is a joy-filled, Bible-believing, justice-seeker bent on the restoration of hearts. She and her husband Chris currently live in California with their three children. Heather writes about discipleship and living justly for readers’ ennobling, emboldening and enjoyment.

Read more about Heather by selecting her ABOUT tab.

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