Children rescued from sex trade struggle to find care in U.S.

When the FBI announced a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution last month as part of a long-term initiative to combat domestic sex trafficking, it noted that 52 children had been rescued from “sexual slavery”.

“It is repugnant that children in these times could be subjected to the great pain, suffering and indignity of being forced into sexual slavery for someone else’s profit,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at the time.

But a month later, none of those children is receiving the kind of help that experts say they require to overcome the trauma of their experiences, and some are still languishing in local juvenile detention centers, according to a Tribune Newspapers check of the children’s situation.

Experts say the only way to ensure a good chance of recovery for these children is placement in a residential treatment program for such victims, of which there are only three in the United States: in New York, California and Georgia.

“When America’s child prostitutes are identified by the FBI or police, they are incarcerated for whatever reason possible, whether it be an unrelated crime or ‘material witness hold,’ ” said Lois Lee, founder of one of the three centers, Children of the Night in Los Angeles.

“Then they are dumped back in the dysfunctional home, ill-equipped group home or foster care, and (often) disappear back into the underground of prostitution with no voice.”

Experts say victims struggle to find care once they escape an industry that could involve as many as 300,000 U.S. children.

Ian McCaleb, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the department “uses a victim-centered approach that provides victims with the services they need in order to recover and to fully participate in the criminal justice process.”

A report prepared for the Health and Human Services Department in 2007 found four residential treatment centers with a total of 45 beds for child prostitutes in the U.S. Interviews with the centers show bed numbers remain low two years later.

New York-based Girls Educational and Mentoring Services has 12 beds. One of the four mentioned in the 2007 report, The Standing Against Global Exploitation Safe House in San Francisco no longer has beds for trafficking victims, though it offers non-residential care for victims and helps place them with foster families.

Melba Robinson, a program manager at Georgia’s Center to End Adolescent Sexual Exploitation, said the center’s Angela’s House, which usually takes in girls on probation, is expanding from six beds to eight.

Still, with victims numbering in the thousands, advocates say there just aren’t enough treatment options to go around.,0,7382909.story


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