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The hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown went viral last week after a slew of celebrities took to social media to support the cause. Cyntoia Brown is a child sex slave who is currently serving time in Nashville for killing the man who abused her. Brown was bought for sex when she was 16 by a 43-year-old real estate agent, whom she later killed.
The jury in Brown’s case sentenced her under the law at the time, giving her life in prison. Under this ruling, Brown would only be eligible for parole after serving 51 years. She would be 67.
Brown’s story is not uncommon. There are many trafficked minors who are not being provided with the proper access to the justice they require after enduring the commercial sex trade. Human sex trafficking is defined by the United States’ Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”
Many American citizens remain unaware that human sex trafficking is not just a crime that occurs in foreign countries.
It is a domestic human rights issue. In recent years, national and international media outlets have made a greater effort to highlight cases of human sex trafficking and to increase public awareness about the prominence of the crime throughout the United States and the rest of the world.
However, amongst the general public, there are still many misconceptions regarding the issue of human sex trafficking in the United States.
The people being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States are not solely foreigners. American citizens often fall victim to the crime. Marginalized youth are often the most vulnerable population for becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Children who are jostled around in foster care or who run away from home are susceptible to trafficking and are more easily exploited by traffickers. When these trafficked children are discovered by the police, they are often arrested on charges of prostitution and thrown into jail, even though they are minors. Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) in the United States thrives on the exploitation of marginalized youth.
Domestic minor sex trafficking can be viewed as a modern form of slavery for children. Shared Hope International defines DMST as “the commercial sexual abuse of children through buying, selling or trading their sexual services.”
Under this definition, DMST can take on the forms of stripping, prostitution, pornography, escort services and various other sexual services. The average age of a child who enters the sex trade is between 12 and 14. Some children are at a higher risk of being coerced into trafficking, depending on their individual sets of risk factors.
Some common risk factors include living in poverty, lack of access to proper education, abusive family life and ethnic minority status. Sex traffickers typically target children who have been kicked out of their homes, who lack the care and support of family members or who lack a stable income.
During these vulnerable points in their lives, children are the easiest to overpower and control because they are desperate to make ends meet and are realizing that it is difficult to survive entirely on their own.
DMST can be both physically and psychologically damaging to exploited children. As children are forced to endure unbearable living conditions and are denied their basic human rights, they begin to become dependent on their traffickers for the basic necessities of life.
Traffickers take complete control over the identities of these minors by creating new names and identification documents for the children. The traffickers emphasize to the minor that their survival depends on their ability to maintain complete loyalty and obedience.
Once traffickers have sufficiently groomed their minors for the sex trade, the children are ready to become products to be sold. The high demand created by buyers who seek to purchase sexual services allows the cycle of sex trafficking and crime to continue.
DMST is an often overlooked criminal abuse against youth. Awareness is the key to breaking the cycle of exploitation. At-risk youths are often viewed and designated by the public as delinquents, but in many instances these youths are being victimized and mistreated.
The early identification of at-risk youths can help prevent some children from entering situations that leave them vulnerable to sex traffickers.