It’s a horrific issue that doesn’t get nearly enough coverage in U.S. mainstream media. Child sex trafficking is a booming black market business.
Most parents can’t imagine it happening in their own backyard.
While we know it’s a global issue, child sex trafficking is finally starting to become a mainstream topic in the U.S.
A film called “I Am Jane Doe,” released in February, highlights young girls between the ages of 13 and 15 years old who were picked up off the street and sold for sex online.
The film takes aim at Backpage.com. But in reality, the issue of child sex trafficking is so much bigger than one website. And the appetite for child sex abuse goes all the way to the top.
This is Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.
It’s a disheartening statistic: the child sex trafficking market is resulting in more than 1 million children abused around the world each year. So how has this market proliferated?
Tim Swarens, a columnist and editor for The Indianapolis Star, recently began publishing a series of articles about the child sex trade, a subject he’s reportedly investigated for more than a year. He explains that the child sex trade is like any other business trade, driven by supply and demand.
According to a study by the Center for Court Innovation from 2016, between 8,900 and 10,500 children ages 13 to 17 are being sold in the U.S. each year. Swarens writes, “The researchers found that the average age of victims is 15 and that each child is purchased on average 5.4 times a day.”
To determine a conservative estimate of the demand, Swarens “multiplied the lower number of victims (8,900) identified in the Center for Court Innovation study by the rate of daily exploitation per child (5.4), and then by an average of only one ‘work’ day per week (52). The result: Adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.”
And while the supply side is what garners most media attention, the issue of demand doesn’t get nearly as much coverage.
Take the recent documentary “I Am Jane Doe,” a film about parents seeking justice for their young teenage girls being picked up and trafficked for sex right in their own communities.
Those parents took aim at the website Backpage.com for profiting off of its adult section, allegedly riddled with young girls being sold for sex. But even if Backpage.com is a platform for advertising and selling, a channel through which these transactions can take place, it’s just one of many online channels being used by pedophiles to buy children to abuse.
But is the problem the channels, or is it something deeper?
What’s missing from the discussion is the high demand perpetuating the child sex trade.
Swarens explains, “The critical need to reduce demand has gained far less attention and money. The result: Buyers continue to abuse children with near impunity.”
Now, in the film “I Am Jane Doe,” the people buying children to abuse are described to be white, married men with families who live in suburbia. A former pimp interviewed for the film, Homer King, says on camera that he sold girls to priests, lawyers and even politicians.
Swarens came to the same conclusion in his investigation. He writes: “This project began with a question: Who buys a 15-year-old child for sex? The answer: Many otherwise ordinary men. They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse.”
Who are some of these men buying children to abuse?
Remember Jared Fogle from the Subway sandwich commercials? He “admitted to charges of having child pornography and repeatedly having sex with minors,” according to NPR. Court documents show that one of the text messages Fogle sent to a 17-year-old he paid for sex, stated his preferences as quote: “The younger the girl, the better.”
And back in June 2008, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was prosecuted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for paying for sex with girls as young as 14. He served only 13 of those months.
The appetite for underage sex goes all the way to the top—some most powerful people in the world.
The longest serving Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who was second in line to the presidency from 1999 to 2007, admitted to sexually abusing boys while he was a high school wrestling coach. After making the admission in 2016, the judge who sentenced him 15 months in prison and two years of supervised release, called Hastert a “serial child molester.” He served only 13 months.
Now, let’s be clear: there’s no evidence that Hastert actually paid for sex. But the desire to abuse children is what fuels the global child sex trade, and demand is high.
Back in 2015, a special report aired on 60 Minutes Australia revealing that elected officials and elites in the UK were accused of buying and abusing children.
From powerful elites down to “otherwise ordinary men,” children are easily being bought and abused… around in the world.
Posing as a buyer, former special agent for the Department of Homeland Security Timothy Ballard has been setting up undercover sting operations through his nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad since 2013.
Working in conjunction with governments all around the world, Operation Underground Railroad has so far busted 443 child sex traffickers and saved more than 1,000 victims. Here are just some of their 2017 operations.
- Operation Sainte Jou: Port-au-Prince, Haiti – 32 rescued, 9 arrested
- Operation Grand Via: Mexico – 25 rescued, 5 arrested
- Operation NN9: Washington State, USA – 17 rescued, 21 arrested
- Operation Jetsar: Cambodia – 11 rescued, 9 arrested
So what you need to know is that the battle to dismantle the global child sex trade is a massive and almost overwhelming undertaking.
Yet mainstream media does not treat it that way. Networks like CNN will give at least 40 days of daily coverage to stories like the missing Flight 370 in 2014. But in those 40 days, using Swarens’s math, about 250,000 children were bought and abused.
Even if that made the news, we make a mistake when the focus of the efforts to end this trafficking is only focused on how children are sold, instead of also focusing on to whom they are sold.
That discussion is one we need to have because until mainstream media and law enforcement is willing to go down that road… we will likely not see any real changes.