Deconstructing Perceptions and a Victim-Centered Approach

"Not all traffickers are adults: A suburban Minneapolis high school cheerleader was arrested for allegedly recruiting and pimping a younger student by creating an online ad and driving the victim to potential customers."

—Star Tribune

Until recently, the trafficking of children in the United States has been clouded by a lack of awareness and exacerbated by stigma and denial. Now, communities are beginning to familiarize themselves with the nature of the crime and to train law enforcement and legal and social service providers on how to protect victims and serve their needs. Child trafficking is child abuse, and properly understanding this reality allows educators and law enforcement and social service providers to minimize judgment, provide services, prevent revictimization, and focus on the safety and well-being of the boy, girl, or transgender individual.

With the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (Pub.L.106-386), the trafficking of children for sex and labor was criminalized, with the crucial caveat that anyone under age 18 who is induced to perform a commercial sex act is a victim of child sex trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion are involved. Unfortunately, local practice and policy sometimes treat the exploited minor in a human trafficking incident, where sex is engaged in for profit, as a perpetrator of the crime rather than as a victim. It is a contradiction that public outrage occurs when an eighth grader is molested by a family friend, and yet, if that same adolescent is sexually abused by a stranger who pays for the sex act, the community often wrongfully perceives the act as willing criminal prostitution. The law recognizes that children cannot give meaningful consent to such a crime. Educators must remember that a child involved in prostitution should always be treated as a victim and that criminal responsibility rests with the trafficker.