(Washington DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, and U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, hosted a forum to discuss how children in the child welfare and foster care systems are vulnerable to falling prey to sex traffickers and to identify tools and best practices to help communities screen for and provide services to victims of child trafficking.
“The fight against modern-day slavery often takes on an international focus, but we need to remember that all forms of human trafficking occur every day in the United States. One aspect of this issue that demands special attention is the trafficking of children – a heinous crime that is often invisible and unknown but always cruel and brutal,”Blumenthal said. “A comprehensive and dedicated effort is required to meet the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable youth and we need to ensure there is effective coordination among all of the systems designed to serve the needs of these children.”
“The statistics for current or former foster youth who have been involved with child trafficking is truly alarming and it’s time for a wake-up call to combat this problem,” Bass said. “If we continue to think of child trafficking as only a problem abroad, we do so at the expense of thousands of children within our own borders who are at risk of becoming trafficking victims, with foster youth being especially susceptible. We know that pimps continue to target foster youth group homes as hubs to recruit vulnerable girls. This is unacceptable and we cannot continue to fail our nation’s children or ignore these trends.”
During the forum, Blumenthal and Bass commended the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for issuing guidance to child welfare agencies to help them identify and support victims of human trafficking and emphasized the need for a multidisciplinary collaborative approach to combat the trafficking of children and youth.
“We can allow no one to turn a blind eye to the suffering and enslavement of so many. If you want to find an issue that joins the two political parties, this is it," said George H. Sheldon, the HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families. Sheldon spoke at the forum.
The forum brought together a host of advocates from the child welfare and foster care system and runaway and homeless youth programs, including Malika Saada Saar, the Executive Director of Rights4Girls – a human rights organization focused on gender-based violence and its impact on vulnerable young women and girls in the U.S.
"Domestic child sex trafficking is an emerging crisis,” Saar said. “Every day, there are stories of American children being bought and sold for sex. These children are not prostitutes, they are victims of child abuse and rape. And we desperately need the child welfare system to finally step up and intervene on behalf of these abused children."
The Department of Justice estimates that nearly 300,000 children are at risk of becoming victims of domestic sex trafficking each year, with foster youth being especially susceptible to coercion, manipulation and exploitation by traffickers. In some cities throughout the nation, it is estimated that between 60 and 85 percent of victims of child trafficking are youth from the foster care system. Understanding the prevalence of trafficking in the U.S. continues to be a challenge. Current and reliable data is needed to help identify the full scope of the problem and provide the appropriate resources to assist survivors in the U.S.