Nesa Chappelle, Ph.D.
In the U.S. there is a dirty little secret. Some believe that the sexual exploitation of children only occurs overseas in countries like Serbia, Africa, the Philippines, and India. This is the secret; in the U.S there is sexual exploitation of our children. The time is ripe for exposure of this more than 3.5 billion-dollar enterprise that exists in America– the forced child prostitution enterprise. In the United Nations DMST or sex slavery happens in cities and towns, both large and small, throughout the United States, right under our noses and in our own backyards (Commission 53rd Session).
We must expose Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). DMST is the term used for American and legal permanent-resident children/adolescents, under the age of 18 at the time of victimization, who are used in the commercial sex industry. DMST is the prostitution of children under the age of 18 in sexual activities for remuneration or any other form of compensation.
The commercial sex industry includes, but is not limited to prostitution, strip clubs, massage parlors, pornography, escort services and peep shows. According to The Federal Victim Trafficking Protection Act (VTPA; 2000) and some state laws, all minors involved in commercial sex acts are victims of DMST and not prostitutes.
A trafficker/pimp receives compensation for the sex acts of children. Trafficker and pimp are terms that can be used interchangeably. Once a trafficker has recruited and seduced a child into prostitution, they enforce physical and psychological control to keep their victims trapped in “the life” of prostitution. Traffickers/pimps use a number of methods to control their victims. DMST victims are tortured, beaten, gang raped, burned, placed in solitude, and not permitted to contact or see family or friends,
There is no a standard profile for these perpetrators. Mothers, fathers, family members, neighbors, coaches, priests, pastors, law enforcement officers judges, and teachers to name a few have been found to be involved in the commercial child sex industry — trafficking children that are vulnerable and with whom they are associated.
According to Araminta Project, the average age that a trafficker/pimp recruits a girl into prostitution is 13 years old. Shared Hope International reports that the average age of recruitment is between 12-14 years of age for girls. The ages become younger and younger over time. Preteen or adolescent girls are more susceptible to the calculated advances used by traffickers/pimps. No child, male or female, is exempt from falling prey to a trafficker’s tactics.
|Vulnerabilities (Shared Hope International)||Common Victim Traits (Shared Hope International)|
|Youth who come from “dysfunctional” families and who are traumatized||1-2 parents in jail|
|One parent household||Depression|
|Incest (boot camp for prostitution)||Suicidal|
|Drug use by Parents||Contracted STDs|
|Chronic physical and sexual abuse in home environment||Sexual Abuse Victim|
|Children in foster care||Alcohol use|
|Older boyfriends||Narcotics use|
|Desire to stop|
Learn about Shared Hope International
Too often, African American children in general and girls specifically, are exposed to the types of structural violence (and the impact of such) that increases their vulnerability to DMST. For some of our children, due to structural factors stemming from race-gender oppression, they live in single-family homes, have been molested and raped by family members, are on public assistance, live in foster care, and are runaways. Thus, their vulnerability is heightened, and traffickers/pimps recognizing this, often promise them the dream of housing, money, marriage, and travel.
Race, in and of itself and as is relates to DMST is not often considered a strong variable in terms of those who might be trafficked. However, I argue that we must pay attention to race and its intersection with DMST. Given the often negative stereotyping of African American females and how our bodies have been abused and used beginning in slavery, not to mention the image in general of African American women as “sexually loose”, it is not surprising that African American girls would be particularly vulnerable to DMST.
In the world of DMST, traffickers/pimps charge less money for an African American youth than for a White, Hispanic, or Asian female. Many people still believe that sex trafficked African American girls participate in the business because they want to; not taking into account the horrors and trauma that they experience at the hands of the traffickers and the perpetrators. Victims are expected to have sex at times 20 or 30 men a night to make the trafficker’s required quota. If they do not meet the quota, they are severely beaten and cannot return to the stable (home) until the quota is made. Most female victims die by the age 17.
It can be said with certainty that the policy response to DMST is weak at best. State laws are not currently effective at all with little, if any, serious enforcement especially when it comes to African American female victims. As a matter of fact, states have only enacted DMST laws within the last few years that “protect” victims but have no impact on traffickers/pimps, facilitators, and buyers. There is a lack of federal and state funding resources to provide safe housing, therapy for victims, or training for DMST professionals who work with traumatized DMST victims.
It is alarming how laws are written not to protect children, especially African American children, but rather to protect white men who are the largest perpetrators of buying sex from young children. The average profile of a DMST perpetrator is white male, age 55, married, lives in the suburbs with 2.5 children. Unfortunately, the young female victims are placed in jails with no support while the perpetrator returns home with a slap on the wrist from law enforcement in time to have dinner with his family.
Male perpetrators, facilitators, buyers, or johns are not prosecuted while victims, especially African American victims, are institutionalized and punished as if the situation is their fault. It has been reported that male police officers have been known to rape DMST victims upon arrest and get away with it because it is known that no one will believe the women/girls.
DMST is truly a male’s paradise based on supply and demand and protected by state laws that are not effectively enacted. DMST is one of America’s best kept secrets. It is only when there is a large domestic DMST case that the FBI becomes involved usually ending in prosecution of buyers.
Based on research findings, with an overarching framework that identified minors exploited through sex trafficking, four primary issues must be addressed to combat DMST (The Protected Innocence Challenge, Shared Hope International 2013, pp.10-14)
Issue with how to reduce demand
Very weak – most states do not prosecute males except for large cases that fall under federal jurisdiction
Difficult because of state coding and lack of victim cooperation
Providing Protection, Access to Services, and Shelter for Victims
Lackadaisical interest and insufficient law enforcement dedicated to DMST; essentially no funding available for therapy or shelters for victims
The apathy that exists regarding the African American community is a tragedy and clearly DMST and its impact in our community is not a top agenda item for America. DMST is modern day slavery at best. Thus, it is critical that more African American women work with DMST African American victims, that we work to prevent DMST and that we advocate for policy to address not only DMST but the underlying structural violence faced by our communities. We need our voices to be part of this conversation if we are to have policies be culturally responsive!
Let’s start by demanding the criminalization of DMST and punishment for perpetrators. This is a community crisis and it will surely take a village to protect our children.
I am the author of Broken Silence: A Secret Life of Abuse. I’m a “womanist” who works to improve the lives of women and girls in America. My skills and areas of expertise include public speaking, training, advocacy, and policy analysis. My professional title is President/Founder at Spirit Driven Woman, LLC, which specializes in eradicating domestic violence/partner violence & Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) or forced child prostitution.
I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from Howard University. I’m currently a member on the Prince George’s County, Maryland Human Labor and Sex Trafficking Task Force, National Council of Black Women, National Association of Professional Women and the National Association of Bilingual Educators.