July 01, 2013

Child Sex Traffickers Target California Foster Children

National Center for Youth Law, Young Minds Advocacy Project (YMAP), WestCoast Children’s Clinic, and the Children’s Law Center of California

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Every day, the unthinkable happens: thousands of America’s children are coerced into performing sex for hire,” said Kate Walker, an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, Oakland, CA.

Walker wrote the new report, Ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in California. 

According to Walker, “Exploitation can start as young as age 10. Some exploited children are brutally beaten and raped. Others are isolated, drugged, and starved until they become “willing” participants. Yet, these children are regularly arrested and held in juvenile detention facilities even though they are victims of crime.”

Worldwide, human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, involving 100,000 children in the U.S. The FBI has determined that three of the nation’s 13 High Intensity Child Prostitution areas are located in California. Studies estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) are or were formally involved with the child welfare system. Child sex trafficking, child pornography, and child sex tourism are all forms of CSEC. Frequently victims are exploited many times before they are able to leave their exploitative relationships.

“We all need to come together to reinvent the way we respond to this problem,” said Patrick Gardner, President of Young Minds Advocacy Project. “This report is a first step.”


Four of the report’s key recommendations highlight the urgent need for: 

Safe, secure and specialized homes for exploited children and children at risk

New screening tools to help professionals working with children identify both victims and children at risk

Special training for “child serving” professionals and systems to identify and support vulnerable individuals

Increased data collection and information sharing to promote collaboration across systems and raise public awareness

“Rather than criminalizing these children and funneling them into the juvenile justice system, California’s child welfare system, which is designed to protect and serve children and families who experience abuse and neglect, is the more appropriate system to support exploited children,” said Walker.

Commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) “are likely to become clients of the agencies who are represented on the Council . . . and clearly [the type of] problem that the Council was designed to address,” according to Presiding Justice of the Third District Court of Appeals, Vance Raye, and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Diana Dooley, who jointly chair the California Child Welfare Council.

The report recommends that the Council create a CSEC Action Committee, jointly chaired by Secretary Dooley and a representative from a community-based advocacy organization that works with exploited children. The Committee would be charged with overseeing implementation of the recommendations in the report. 

Bridging Gaps

“We know from our daily work that the level of system coordination required to address the emotional trauma, constant physical danger and coercive techniques used by traffickers does not yet exist in California,” said Stacey Katz, Executive Director of West Coast Children’s Clinic, an agency that serves over 100 commercially sexually exploited children per year in Alameda County, California. Katz states, “The traffickers benefit directly from these system gaps. Until the agencies responsible for serving and protecting young people come together, we will continue to see youth who are severely traumatized and whose lives are in danger. We can do better by these youth—this is not an issue of resources. It’s an issue of will.”

According to Leslie Heimov, Executive Director of Children’s Law Center of California, “The more we learn about child sex trafficking, the clearer it becomes that we are facing a national crisis. Without safe placements, access to highly trained therapists and other experts, we are powerless to stop the brutalization and revictimization of the youth the child welfare system seeks to protect.”

Download the  Executive Summary: http://www.youthlaw.org/fileadmin/ncyl/youthlaw/publications/Ending-CSEC-Exec-Summary.pdf

The report was jointly produced by the National Center for Youth Law, Young Minds Advocacy Project (YMAP), WestCoast Children’s Clinic, and the Children’s Law Center of California