The annual March for Life rally, being held this week in Washington D.C., regularly sees turnouts of over 100,000 people. Even in 2016, when a blizzard dropped 24 inches of snow on the capital, tens of thousands of marchers still braved the cold to advocate for their pro-life beliefs. This kind of commitment and dedication to protecting human life is exactly what we need to save the lives of the millions of future unborn children.
But sadly, in America today the risk to young lives does not end at the womb. We need to continue to preserve the sacredness of every one of their childhoods. Though most Americans are not aware of it, children are being sold for sex across the country – and it might be happening in your own backyard. Only a few months ago, 123 missing children were found in Michigan during a law enforcement sweep aimed at locating and recovering victims of a sex trafficking operation. Only a year earlier, 84 children were rescued in an FBI raid on a multistate sex trafficking ring. These cases demonstrate the enormity of the problem and the unknown number of victims who may still be out there.
Pro-life activism should be directed not only toward giving life to unborn babies, but toward saving the children trapped in the dark industry of sex trafficking today.
The massive pro-life event – the world’s largest – has taken place in D.C. every January for more than 40 years. Perhaps not coincidentally, this March is also National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and by becoming aware of the extensive reach of human trafficking in America today, we can take the first steps toward affirming and protecting the value of human life at all stages.
All human life is sacred – from the smallest unborn baby to the elderly in hospice. But there are criminals in this country who are regularly exploiting minors for sexual pleasure and for profit, and we need churches and pro-life activists to be champions for this cause and to serve as voices for those enduring this exploitation in silence.
As the president and co-founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, I have seen firsthand the tremendous loss of dignity these victims suffer. Here is a common scenario: a teenage girl with low self-esteem is romanced by an older man she meets online, at the mall or at a bus station. He “dates” her for six or seven months and convinces her he has fallen in love with her, before persuading her to have sex with someone he knows. She does this to please him, but then he begins offering her to other men for money. He may introduce her to drugs. If she resists, he may beat her; he may threaten her life or the lives of her family.
What this girl may not know is that she is not, in fact, the only person this man has seduced. Her “boyfriend” is actually collecting a number of girls to create what he calls “a stable,” which will maximize his profits.
Sometimes these men can be well into their thirties, the girls barely out of puberty. Often, these children are more susceptible to the attentions of older men because of a history in the child welfare system; the National Foster Youth Institute found that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims recovered through FBI raids across the U.S. in 2013 were from foster care or group homes.
Other, albeit less common, sex trafficking scenarios involve children who are kidnapped, sometimes from other countries, or sold for sex by their parents or guardians. But regardless of how victims are lured or forced into the commercial sex trade, the result is the same: these children suffer irreparable psychological and often physical harm.
A 2014 Urban Institute study found that the sex trade is an enormous industry in this country, and “child sex trafficking cases are primarily uncovered through investigations into escort services.” The study, which provided scientifically-based estimates for the revenue generated in the underground commercial sex economies of Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Miami, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington, DC, in 2003 and 2007, found that the commercial sex economy ranged from $39.9 million to $290 million in these cities alone. “Common across all cities,” the study notes, “was the sex trafficking of minors, often runaway youth, by street and Internet pimps.”
Because there are far more victims still out there than arrests that have been made, it is impossible to know with certainty the exact number trapped by sex trafficking today. What we do know is that most of those trapped in the industry are children; according to the Federal Human Trafficking Report, nearly two-thirds of the 661 active sex trafficking cases last year involved victims under 18.
These children’s experiences are painful to hear about, or even imagine; many of us can’t help thinking of our own children or grandchildren. But this is why we can’t turn a blind eye to the existence of the sex trafficking industry in this country today. This is also why we need people who are brave enough to make their voices heard to lead the anti-trafficking fight. This movement must begin with churches and pro-life groups, who have the power of their faith and the conviction of their strong values behind them.
I encourage everyone attending March for Life to think about the babies they are marching for and the children they will grow up to become. Educate your friends and family; write your representatives in Congress to ask what they are doing to fight this issue; ask your community to become a TraffickingFree Zone. The more we can increase public awareness of the realities of this industry, the closer we are to ending the cycle of sex trafficking in America.
We need to fight to keep these children’s innocence intact. All children deserve to feel safe, loved and protected, without having to sacrifice the purity of their childhoods in return.