The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) or sex trafficking of minors has garnered more attention from the criminal justice agencies as well as communities in these past years. From safe harbor laws (that protect minors being sex trafficked as victims instead of treating them as criminals) to higher penalties for traffickers and those who purchase sex from minors, the criminal justice-framed response echoes the movement in the 1970 and 80s for other violence against women issues, namely domestic violence and sexual assault. But what is largely missing from the new CSEC narrative is a discussion and observation that CSEC is another form of gender-based violence, and could learn much from the anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual assault movements that have been struggling to end violence based on gender for decades.
I would like to share four major lessons and ideas that the anti-human trafficking movement should keep in mind as it moves forward creating new laws, opening new services, and spreading awareness.
- It happens to boys too: Like the violence against women movements before, we must acknowledge and be open-minded to the fact that 50% of the children in sex trafficking are male. We must craft responses that are appropriate and sensitive to the needs of male survivors. Although this issue is based on violence against gender and has historically been framed as violence against women-it happens to boys and men also.
- Laws can have unintended consequences: The laws and criminal justice response can have unintended consequences for certain communities and victims. We need to take a long and wide view when crafting policy and creating new laws. Engaging anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual assault advocates is critical in bringing the lessons learned from criminal justice response development for gender-based violence issues.
- Being trauma-informed and resiliency-focused is important: We must strive to understand the underlying pressures and context for being pulled in to “the life.” It is a process and often builds on compounded vulnerabilities. Being trauma-informed means that we acknowledge the impact of past and current trauma and can shape responses and systems that do the same-changing the paradigm from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happen to you?” Being resiliency-focused means that we have hope and resources for recovery and healing-acknowledging that humans are resilient and can overcome trauma with the proper help, services, and care.
- Survey the systems and strategies already in place: It is critical that we understand the scope and depth of services already established. For sex trafficking, connecting with other systems that respond to sexually-based violence and intimate partner violence is very important, as we are finding that these services are already working with a cross-section of victims of sex trafficking. There are also important lessons to be shared and resources to leverage-this includes using an empowerment-based approach for survivors of sex trafficking, as well as providing culturally considerate and appropriate services. As awareness of the issue grows-the services and resources need to keep step and serve the communities.
There is a lot to be gained from a strong collaboration between CSEC/sex trafficking response and prevention and the older anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual assault movements. Collaboration and communication can help streamline the response to sex trafficking and elevate prevention and awareness of all forms of gender-based violence. There is much that these issues have in common, and there is much we can learn from each other.
Emily Austin, J.D., serves as the Director of Policy and Evaluation for Peace Over Violence, a social services agency with national reach dedicated to the elimination of sexual violence, domestic violence and all forms of interpersonal violence. Established in 1971 the organization has excelled in and provided critical crisis intervention services and violence prevention education. Peace Over Violence advises on public policy matters in relation to gender-based violence, sexual assault and rape, and domestic violence. As a national advocacy group they believe that all forms of violence are preventable. They are best known for their highly successful and yearly Denim Day awareness campaign in honor of Sexual Violence Awareness Month. Worldwide, Denim Day, has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.
Currently, Peace Over Violence is leading a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Advisory Committee based in Los Angeles, Calif. that Crittenton Services for Children and Families is proudly participating in as a community partner. We look forward to our continued partnership with Peace Over Violence and are in full support of this year’s Denim Day on April 29, 2015. For more information on Denim Day visit the Peace Over Violence website.