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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Criminals or Victims?

On Sunday night, the TV show “Our America with Lisa Ling” told viewers the heartbreaking stories of girls, all under the age of 18, who have been victims of sex trafficking. Host Lisa Ling was guided through her investigation of child trafficking in Washington, D.C. by Tina Frundt, who is a trafficking survivor and the founder and executive director of Courtney’s House, an organization that provides services and support to child trafficking victims. Courtney’s House does street outreach work and offers intake assessments, a shelter for trafficking survivors, case management services, therapy, and medical referrals.

All too often, however, children who have been involved in the commercial sex industry are not recognized as victims of human trafficking and therefore do not receive the services they need, services like those provided at Courtney’s House. During the show, Lisa Ling repeatedly made a very important point: all children and youth who are under 18 and who are involved in commercial sex work are victims of human trafficking.

The recognition that youth under 18 who are involved in sex work are, by definition, trafficking victims is an essential first step in making sure they receive the services they need. According to the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), anyone who is involved in commercial sex work as result of the use of force, fraud, or coercion is a victim of human trafficking. However, in the case of children under 18, the TVPA specifies that force, fraud, or coercion need not be present in order for the situation to be considered human trafficking. Here in Illinois, that definition of trafficking was reinforced by the 2010 Safe Children Act, which removed references to “juvenile prostitutes” from the Illinois Criminal Code and provided additional protections for child trafficking victims.

As an implementing partner for the Illinois Safe Children Act, IOFA is launching the ChildRight program to spread the word about this issue and to train service providers on how to identify and provide services to trafficking victims.

We hope that Sunday’s program will help draw attention to this issue. And we hope that you’ll support IOFA’s work to make sure that child trafficking victims get the support and services they need.

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