Part III in a series on profiling sexually exploited American youth. This blog looks at which groups of individuals are at higher risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation as well as defining characteristics and family background.
High Risk Groups
- Children living without one of their biological parents
- When the mother is unavailable to the child due to either employment outside the home, disability or illness
- When a child reports parents’ marriage is unhappy or conflictual
- When a child reports having a poor relationship with their parents or being subject to extremely punitive cycles of child abuse
- When a stepfather is present
- Children who have access to organized crime units
- Children who live in communities where there is a presence of large numbers of unattached and transient males (i.e. military personnel, truckers, conventioneers, sex tourists)
Victims of prostitution are alone, alienated, defenseless and neglected. Such individuals have no self-esteem and little hope or respect for themselves or others, especially male figures. These characteristics have been brought on by physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Moreover, victims lack the aggression that is required for survival on the street(s), making them more vulnerable to manipulation and con games played by pimps.
Another characteristic of victims is poor physical and mental health. Both males and females exhibit unexplained injuries or signs of prolonged and untreated illnesses or disease. Signs of physical or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or torture are included in this category. Heart trouble, chronic liver disease, STD’s, HIV exposure and infertility are all examples of health problems that victims experience. Such individuals also appear to be malnourished. Juvenile victims may have behavior or communication disorders and learning disabilities as a result of poor mental health. As a result, many are depressed, are of a fragile state of mind and exhibit unusual amounts of fear, anxiety, depression, submission, tension or nervous/paranoid behavior. Victims react with unusual amounts of distress at any reference to “law enforcement” as well as avoiding eye contact and exhibiting a flat effect. This places such individuals at a higher risk of running away.
Thirdly, victims display a lack of control. Victims have few, if any, personal possession and are not in control of his or her individual money. They have no financial records, bank account or possession of identification documents. Victims are not allowed or able to speak for him-/her-self as a third party may insist on being present or the individual has an attorney that (s)he does not seem to know or have agreed to receive representation from.
Victims usually do not come from an intact family life in which there is no reliable parents. The paternal figure is, often times, missing from their life due largely to multiple divorces. Linked closely to this is the abuse-predominately physical-of the victim’s mother by a male relative or boyfriend.
Victims may or may not have personally experience similar abuse in their homes as well. There is a higher percentage of individuals who become involved in prostitution after experiencing molestation at any given point in their life, including physical and emotional exploitation. 40% of girls and 30% of boys have acknowledged familial sexual abuse. Juveniles who become involved in prostitution have a past of sexual abuse and enter prostitution as a passive acceptance of a social reality. In other words, victims run to the street during adolescent in order to escape sexual exploitation by a trusted caregiver. 85% of underage victims have run away from the homes and people who were suppose to have kept them safe from the sexual and/or physical abuse they suffered there. “What we found as prosecutors is that a great number who are abused as children end up being very vulnerable to predators we know as ‘pimps'”, said San Francisco District Attorny Kamala Harris.
It is also possible for victims to have a family history of relatives being involved in prostitution and (the victim) has fallen captive to the same industry as a result. Additionally, there may be traces of drug or alcoholic addictions interwoven in these family situations.
Moreover, victims tend to be part of the system through group homes, foster care systems or juvenile facilities in which they act as runaways. Individuals are placed here due to sexual and physical abuse at home but are not happy here and run away onto the streets as a result. Group or foster homes are required by law to file a missing child report but they do nothing more except wait to see if patrol picks up the juvenile. Therefore, no importance is placed on the report unless information is gathered that a child is in danger. This puts victims at a higher risk of becoming involved with prostitution because they are on the run which causes them to become easy targets for pimps. They may engage or be coerced into prostitution for “survival sex”‘ in order to meet daily needs for food, shelter or drugs. The abandonment of an individual by their families and the social service system aids in the victimization and vulnerability of underaged youth to the world of sexual exploitation.
Next – Examining whether prostitutes and victims of human trafficking chose to enter the sex industry or if they enter the profession by force.