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Child Sex Trafficking: The Realities, Risk Factors and Red Flags

safe harbour

Human trafficking in Suffolk County is far more prevalent than most realize, and many youths who are at-risk of this often fall under the radar.  Approximately 300,000 to 500,000 children are bought for sex in the United States annually.  Every January, National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month is recognized to raise awareness that could potentially help raise awareness and prevent more children from becoming victims of human trafficking. Educate yourself about this important cause, which EAC Network’s Safe Harbour program is dedicated to advancing.

What is Sex Trafficking & CSEC?

Human trafficking is the business of selling freedom for profit.  Under NY State’s Anti-Trafficking Law, a person is guilty of Sex Trafficking when they benefit from inducing another person into prostitution through various techniques, such as providing drugs, withholding legal documents, making false or misleading statements, or requiring that prostitution be performed to repay a debt.

Force, fraud, and coercion are elements that are present for adults who are being or have been trafficked.  Examples may include physical assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, starvation, fraudulent employment, deceptive promises, or the use of threats.

The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, also known as CSEC, is a sub-category of child abuse.  This term, used to describe Child sex trafficking, occurs when a young person under the age of 18 has exchanged a sexual act or performance, in exchange for something of value.

While force, fraud, or coercion are present through the power and control that traffickers have over youth, minors under 18 years old, do not require that any of these elements be proven, under the Trafficking Victim Protections Act (2000).

The Realities

There are many myths and common misconceptions about sex trafficking.  It is important to understand the realities around this topic to become an effective advocate for the children within our communities.

A common misconception is that the sex trafficking of children does not happen in the United States. All children are vulnerable to it, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic status. In fact, the sexual exploitation of children is a growing epidemic.

Trafficking does not always involve force or kidnapping.  Many traffickers use psychological means of control.  They often build trust and manipulate them into sexual exploitation.

Trafficking affects males, as well as females.  A 2019 report from the Polaris Project, found over 3,000 survivors identified as male.

There does not have to have been a movement across geographic borders for it to be considered trafficking.  Youth and adults are trafficked in their own towns, communities, and sometimes in their own homes.  Traffickers do not have to be, and often are not, strangers to their victims.

Safe Harbour helps child sex trafficking victims

The Risk Factors

Although any child could become a victim of sex trafficking, there are factors that may put them at a higher risk for trafficking.  These children may have a history of trauma and abuse or may be in unstable living situations.  Additional populations at high-risk may include:

  • Homeless/runaway youth
  • Children with disabilities
  • LGBTQ youth
  • Refugees, immigrants, and non-English speakers
  • Females

The Red Flags

Child sex trafficking is often hidden not just by the perpetrators but also by the victims themselves. Learn to recognize common red flags to better protect the children in your life.

Possible Indicators of Abuse

  • Unexplained school absences or an inability to attend at all
  • Running away from home frequently
  • Bruises or other signs of physical trauma
  • Disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, etc.
  • Appears fearful, timid, submissive, anxious, or depressed
  • Signs of drug dependency
  • A “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” who is noticeably older and/or controlling
  • Appears hungry or malnourished
  • Cannot produce identification documents
  • Has goods without obvious means or a plausible explanation

Suffolk County Safe Harbour help child sex trafficking victims

Suffolk County Safe Harbour

The Safe Harbour Act of 2008 guaranteed that sexually exploited children would be treated as child victims and be offered services that could reduce trauma, hasten rehabilitation, and pave the way for better outcomes. Prior to the enactment of the Safe Harbour Act, sexually exploited youth did not receive the protection of family court and were instead prosecuted criminally, which did little more than further traumatize the victims.

EAC Network’s Safe Harbour program is funded generously by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and the Department of Social Services and works to support youth in Suffolk County that have been impacted by or are at-risk of Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

EAC Network’s Safe Harbour, consists of two programs are based in the Suffolk County Child Advocacy Center, which offers a calm and neutral place for children to be interviewed, examined medically, and evaluated psychologically once by a multidisciplinary team when there is an open investigation in which child abuse is alleged.

Since 2014, Safe Harbour has provided one-on-one Case Management services to survivors of child sex trafficking and at-risk youth, in Suffolk County.  When a youth is referred to the program, a Case Manager meets with the youth to determine which services are needed.  Safe Harbour Case Management offers:

  • Medical and Mental Health Assessments
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Safety Planning
  • Service Planning, through goal setting
  • Advocacy and Accompaniment
  • & Referrals for residential placement and counseling

Safe Harbour Mentoring opened its doors in 2019 and has been developed to provide youth survivors and youth at-risk, with a mentor that will empower them in recognizing their strengths, while developing constructive and healthy relationships.

Through the effective delivery of interrelated components, mentors/mentees participating in Safe Harbour Mentoring, will experience the following outcomes that contribute to improved achievement:

  • Improved social-emotional skills
  • Increased positive engagement behaviors
  • Strengthened civic participation by developing constructive relationships with both peers and adult in their schools and neighborhoods across Suffolk County

How You Can Help Child Sex Trafficking Victims

As part of our Children & Youth Services division, Safe Harbour and Safe Harbour Mentoring protect and care for Suffolk County’s children who have been or are at risk of being sexually exploited. Through Community Education, the Child Advocacy Center and Safe Harbour provide educational workshops and monthly training.  As well, Safe Harbour Mentoring is actively seeking Mentors!

Please join us for one of our open events this January for Human Trafficking Awareness month and follow us on social media for updates!

Facebook: @eacnetsafeharbour

Instagram: @eacsafeharbour

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