Ever wonder what happens to foster children who are lost by the system, tossed out of their homes, or run away from bad situations? They make up the bulk of sex trafficked kids in the U.S. And sadly, even once they are rescued from trafficking these children often have nowhere to go. A large percentage of children trafficked into the commercial sex industry in America have backgrounds in foster care. One FBI agent in Florida recently estimated the number at 70%. Some shelter directors I've spoken with thinks eight out of ten trafficked kids come from foster care. Foster care puts children at a greater risk for sex trafficking for a number of reasons. First, children in foster care often come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect, and some of them may find sexual or physical abuse has been the norm in their life. Populations of foster children also often overlap with populations of runaway and homeless youth, who because of their lack of resources are vulnerable to street pimps. And in many parts of the country, the foster care system is so broken that kids can slip through the cracks without ever being noticed. When a child with no family, no support, and no place to sleep is offered all those things by a pimp, it often sounds like a dream come true.
A recent study from the Vera Institute of Justice on foster youth who are chronically AWOL from foster care indicates that participation in prostitution and running away from foster care may be closely related. Many of the girls interviewed indicated peers who had run from foster care were engaged in prostitution in their teens, though none admitted doing it themselves. Many also cited prostitution taking place at or near their foster home as an impetus for leaving. According to one interviewee, a friend had
"... got arrested for prostitution ’cause she said once she went AWOL she didn't know what to do, she ended up with a pimp and now she can't get away from him."
Some girls reported running away from foster care in order to be with boyfriends. Sometimes those boyfriends turn out to be boyfriends, but other times they turn out to be pimps. Once he has lured a young girl away from her friends and supporters and made her emotionally and financially reliant on him, a pimp has total control. And while children from healthy, wealthy, and highly-functional families can also fall victim to pimps, survivors of abuse and neglect are at even higher risk.
You can help support trafficked kids in America by asking your representative to vote for the Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010, which will provide critical resources for trafficked children in the U.S.