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Sex Trafficking and Adolescents: It's Not Your Fault

Rudbeckia subtomentosa Henry Eilers SWEET CONEFLOWER

Sex Trafficking and Adolescents:

It's Not Your Fault

"It's not your fault.

That's what I want young people to know.

That's what they need to know.

That's what I want them to understand."

- Natalie Proud Associate Program Director Covenant House

In my research on domestic sex trafficking, this is the quote that erases all pre-conceived ideas that sex trafficked youth somehow have a choice, a desire, an inclination to use their bodies for food, shelter, money, and companionship.

It's not your fault.

I interviewed Natalie to get an idea what a safe house for trafficked youth looks like. From what she shared with me, this is no place for judgment. Adolescents in the throes of sex trafficking need patience and understanding, "We have an open door policy. Young people come and go as they wish. It often takes a few visits before they realize we're here to help them. When they're ready, we help."

It's not your fault.

Covenant House shelter has 76 beds, and when they're full, they still don't send anyone back onto the street. Phone calls are made and beds are found. This is important because as Natalie explains, "Survival sex is when you have to choose between the lesser of two evils: fall asleep on a dark street corner where you may be raped and beaten or exchange sex with someone for a hot meal or warm place to stay that night. These are the choices young people may have to make when they no longer have a safe place to stay. They may have been kicked out of their homes or ran away because of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. They use sex to survive. Covenant House offers them another option."

It's not your fault.

80% of trafficking victims knew their trafficker at the time they were trafficked; 40% of the traffickers were family members. "Minors can not legally consent to a commercial sex act as they are not considered adults. Any time something of value is exchanged for sex with a minor, it meets the federal definition of trafficking."

It's not your fault.

In the world of sex trafficking, how is a young person's privacy respected? Minors are often out on the street because of abuse at home. Instead of contacting parents or guardians, safe places like Covenant House work with minors to find the best solution for their safety. It may be a social worker, department of human services, and sometimes, law enforcement. A person's rights, dignity, and privacy are not taken away once a victim reaches out for help. They are restored.

It's not your fault.

Places like Covenant House offer free medical, mental health, and legal services. They have resources for career choices and support for difficulties like getting to a job and dressing for work. They also offer services for housing. All these resources make it possible for a sex trafficked person to move from victim to survivor. Because victims are coerced, manipulated, threatened, forced, and told empty promises, leaving is not an easy choice. The spirit has been broken. Feeling safe is the first step to establish a sense of freedom to do what they want. The hope is that the spirit finds resilience once a person is given more choices.

It's not your fault.

A person's vulnerability makes them an easy target. People who want to exploit adolescents know where to find them. The vulnerable are out after curfew, traveling alone on a bus, standing by buildings or houses as they try to decide where to go, what to do. That's when manipulation starts: promises of a safe place, a warm bed, shelter, or whatever else the exploiter can use to ensnare. It's the art of manipulation complete with a trusting smile that makes coercion multifaceted: If you don't do 'this' for me,

- I'll tell your parents where you are

- I'll kick you back out onto the streets

- I'll get angry and take it out on you.

- you'll be raped without my protection

- you're lazy and not earning your keep

- you really don't care for me

- you'll never find anyone else to care for you

The list goes on and on. Those who exploit are master manipulators. They make the vulnerable question their self worth by making them believe they want to do something they would have never chosen. They question what they believe even though it was never a free choice. The first step to freedom involves trusting a system. No wonder so many victims can't take that first step. Trust was the first human emotion that was shattered.

It's not your fault.

For sex trafficked victims in the Philadelphia area, Covenant House is the first step in the long journey to find the freedom to survive. But where can young people go who are not in the Philadelphia area? Contact any of the resources below to find help in your area. Take that first step. See what else is offered.

You don't have to trust.

Not yet.

Just take a look.

It's not your fault.


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