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I was looking at the 1910 record. They had prostitution laws, but they really didn’t affect the buyer. And there was really nothing there for those that were sold. A hundred years later, we still have that lack of application of justice because of the language. Prostitute, girl, just John, a guy doing what guys do.
It is a re-gearing, a retooling, and an opening of doors that already exist.
Hello and welcome to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking, featuring Linda Smith, the founder of Shared Hope International. Join Linda as she shares stories from her 23 years of fighting the battle of domestic minor sex trafficking. Our desire is that each episode of Invading the Darkness will help you understand the importance of fighting child sex trafficking, as well as equip you to join in that fight.
In this episode, Linda Smith and Samantha Vardaman talk about the importance of language and how we use it in the fight against child sex trafficking. Now, if you’re ready, let’s invade the darkness together.
Samantha, one thing that has been just a battle is language. Often the legislature drafts laws, and then they give them to the agencies to implement. And then there’s a breakdown because of the language.
So one thing that we have been challenged by is language and terms that are labels that have been used in this space of anti-trafficking and how that can drive responses. I’m thinking about the domestic minor sex trafficking term that was never really specifically laid out as a specific subset of trafficking. Human trafficking has several subsets and the ones that most people know are labor trafficking, sex trafficking. Within sex trafficking, there are big differences in the law and in our responses between adult sex trafficking and child sex trafficking.
And the child sex trafficking space, there’s even a difference there, right? There’s a subset of foreign unaccompanied children trafficked into the US and exploited here. And there’s a set of responses that goes with those children.
But then there’s the domestic minor, who is trafficked right here in the US, and had for too long, been considered under various other labels like child prostitute, or runaway youth, or homeless youth, survival sex. The list goes on, but none of them were domestic minor sex trafficking. So when Shared Hope brought that term forward through our research for the justice department and, and ultimately published the National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, we felt compelled to include the subtitle, which is America’s Prostituted Children.
We didn’t know that society was ready for this yet. And we had to give them the term that was properly used Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, and link it to the term that people were using. And it was a little … we were a little uncomfortable with that at first, but it was an important thing to do. And I think it did ultimately drive that language change forward.
Child sex trafficking is just really a horrible word, but prostitute is worse. And I know as we struggled with this research, we went to places all over the United States, again under a Justice Grant. And we went in to find out the perception of seven different areas of their population, judges and prosecutors and child protective services and teachers, it went on. And to find out what they were doing. And we realized as we were doing this research on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking for the Justice Department, that the reality was, is they’d say, “Oh, you mean the prostitutes?”
Our language in the state culture in our neighborhoods, in our communities had still so label these children by what was happening to them, that they didn’t really know. Law enforcement, you can say, “It’s really the fault of law enforcement.” No. They’re following the law and part of the culture that would allow that.
Now, when I researched the Invading the Darkness book, which is a history book on trafficking, I was looking at the 1910 records and in book, a lot of what was going on. And I started realizing that they had prostitution laws, but they really didn’t affect the buyer. It only affected those that would actually sell somebody. And there was really nothing there for those that were sold.
But I think the big issue was this, the culture was so conflicted. Some would cry out for the boys and the girls. But the boy, they just didn’t want to go blind. They didn’t want him to go crazy. “This could hurt you too.”
So they were calling out for protecting their boys and the girls. And the girls being put into those places. But the same culture had determinations in courts that fallen or immoral women, which were the girls put into the prostitution, could not be credible in court to even testify about their own rapes. Conflicted societies, judicial systems, still not seeing the buyers driving the market as a problem. But a hundred years later, we still have that lack of application of justice because of the language. Prostitute girl, just John, a guy doing what guys do.
So commending you and the team at the Institute, because this has been a long climb to get to where as much of the language has changed. And now we have a climb to change the culture.
The term Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, it’s not very simple. It’s not very easy to say. And it got boiled down to DMST by a lot of people in the field working on this issue. But we stuck with it even in the face of criticism because it really accurately led to the law that applied and the responses that were needed.
I mean, we’re talking about US citizen and lawful permanent resident children. And if you don’t look at them as a distinct population of trafficking victims, you’ll miss many of the doors through which these children can come. In fact, there was a study done in Minnesota that was so perfectly titled a No Wrong Door. And it was a brilliant look at the many access points or touch points that these children touch and access in the process of they’re being exploited.
And were we aware? Were people looking for this so that they could interrupt that exploitation and reroute these children into a healthier avenue through existing services? I mean, this is not something that needs to be created whole cloth or a wheel reinventing. It’s not, it is a re-gearing, a retooling and an opening of doors that already exist. And I think that that has been one of the tunes we’ve been playing for a long time is to show people, “Don’t be afraid of this. These children are already on your caseload. Let’s do the right thing and see them for the exploitation that they have experienced.”
You know, it’s kind of like going back to one of the memories, when we were finally doing the evaluations on the issues of services, and we started charting each state. And if a child was put in jail, charged with prostitution or anything, most of them were not … they were just going down a judicial path and they didn’t get services. Any other raped or kidnapped or whatever child would get services, trauma services immediately. But if you put them in jail, they immediately went down a judicial path.
But if you identified them as a victim of a crime, they automatically qualified for federal money, state money services that were funded out of the federal dollars that were coming to the states. But because these kids, and sometimes state dollars, that because these kids weren’t defined as a victim of a crime, the moment they were considered a perpetrator in many states that totally disallowed them from getting victims money. Very interesting unwinding of these problems. And it has been so good to watch states work to change this, but it is the hardest thing that I’ve seen the states do. Lagging behind in services, and really getting away with it. The legislators don’t fund the programs or label the kids as victims and therefore they don’t get services.
And then they come along in 19 states and say, “Well, we have to keep arresting them because we don’t have any place to put them.” And the child is like this ball being bounced back and forth.
No, if they’re a victim in your law, which they are in all 50 states, this child is a victim of trafficking. You make sure they get services and you keep them out of jail. If you’re processed for a crime, that kid knows in their head, they’re a criminal. But often it’s worse than that, they don’t get the immediate services. And they’ve been victimized again by being processed into jail.
Thank you for listening to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking. If you would like to learn how you can help put an end to child sex trafficking, please visit sharedhope.org/takeaction.
New episodes of Invading the Darkness are released every Tuesday at 9:00 AM Pacific. If you have enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a five star rating as well as a written review. Join us in episode two, where Linda shares the origin story of Shared Hope International and how she got started in this fight.