530,000. That’s the average number of children in the U.S. foster care system at any given time. Of those 530,000 children, 81% of them will be sexually abused during their time in the Child Welfare System. These boys and girls are some of the most vulnerable members of our society; often times being taken out of abusive homes only to be thrust back into the same cycles of abuse and neglect.
The foster care system is broken, and more often than not the children within it have experienced abuse or trauma and will bounce from home to home during their time in the system. These children, while deeply broken, are all searching and longing for the same things…to be loved and to belong. It is this deep desire to be loved and the near constant volatility of their lives that makes foster kids so susceptible to the deceptions and traps of human traffickers.
Traffickers will seek out children who are in the foster care system and give them what they want. They will pretend to love them, to take care of them, and will treat them better than anyone has ever treated them before. They make these kids fall in love with them, and then they steal their lives. In 2012, studies estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) in California are or were involved with the child welfare system at some point in their lives.
If children are experiencing abuse within their foster homes they will often times run away, and sadly many foster parents do not care enough about the child to try and find them. Runaway children are especially easy targets for traffickers because they are alone and do not have the know-how or the skills to survive by themselves. So the traffickers will come alongside them appearing as a friend until they win the child’s trust, and then they will tell the child that they have to pay them back for all of the help that they were given. Sometimes the traffickers will even send one of their own girls into the group homes to establish trust and recruit the other girls that are living there.
To think that it is only a select few teenagers in the foster care system who are being trafficked is a sorely underestimated assumption. The FBI estimates sex trafficking in the U.S. involves 100,000 children, the average age of entry into prostitution and trafficking being 12 years old. With 60% of the child sex trafficking victims recovered through FBI raids across the U.S. in 2013 being from foster care or group homes.
The stories of these girls who thought that they were escaping abuse, only to be abused again are heartbreaking. One survivor says that “…being in foster care was the perfect training for commercial sexual exploitation. I was used to being moved without warning, without any say, not knowing where I was going or whether I was allowed to pack my clothes. After years in foster care, I didn’t think anyone would want to take care of me unless they were paid. So, when my pimp expected me to make money to support ‘the family,’ it made sense to me.”
If we want to break the cycles of abuse and recruitment we need to give foster kids what they so desperately crave. We need to show them they are loved. That they belong. That they are worthy and have a purpose. We can no longer let these precious children believe that they are nothing more than garbage that has been thrown out, or were put on this earth solely for others sexual gratification. These children need their childhoods back; they need to see that they are invaluable and loved beyond compare.
The cycle of the recruitment of foster kids needs to stop, and we are the only ones that can break that cycle and bring love back into the lives of those that have lost it.