There has been a lot of media buzz about the thousands of prostitutes, strippers and pole dancers streaming into the Dallas area for the Super Bowl weekend. But what rarely gets reported is the alarming fact that hiding behind the push-up bras, false eyelashes and stilettos are children, some as young as 12 years of age, who are victims of human sex trafficking.
Human trafficking is as much a part of Texas as cowboys and oil. The business flourishes because of the state’s geographic location, long stretches of interstate highways, international airports, numerous bus stations, the large shipping industry, and its shared border with Mexico. This border is North America’s number one supply site for young children used in sex and labor trafficking. In the last quarter of 2007, 30 percent of the calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline were out of Texas and 25 percent of all international victims certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were in Texas.
The problem doesn’t just affect children from outside U.S. borders. Domestic child sex trafficking is on the rise. According to National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children, an estimated one out of every three children that run away is lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. Research indicates that one in five girls and one in ten boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood.
I know first-hand the pain of sexual exploitation. As a child, I was sexually abused for a year by a trusted summer camp counselor. I was molested and I was a victim of child pornography. No child ever completely recovers from this form of abuse.
I kept this awful secret for 32 years. Then in 1987, during my father’s second term as president, I finally spoke. I told the horrible truth to my father Ronald Reagan and Nancy, my mother Jane Wyman and my wife Colleen, and then I told the world in a book I penned called “On the Outside Looking In.” I was no longer fearful of how my experience would affect the image of one of America’s most beloved actors and presidents. I found purpose in the pain.Long before my father was an actor, he was an accomplished swimmer and he worked as a lifeguard at Rock River in Illinois. He was always proud of the fact that he saved 77 lives there. It occurred to me that children caught in the waters of abuse and neglect are drowning too. They need a lifeguard. Time for another Reagan to jump in the water. In 2005, I joined with Arrow Child & Families Ministries of Houston, Texas to create The Michael Reagan Center for Advocacy & Research. The center conducts research in order to effectively advocate nationally for public policies that benefit the safety, stability and well-being of children and families, particularly those served by public and private child welfare systems. Currently, we are focused on providing a fresh voice for children and families affected by deficiencies in the foster care system and those victimized by sex trafficking.
I applaud the efforts of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and members of the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, who are working to identify and assist children trafficked in for the Super Bowl. But come Monday morning, there will be thousands of children still living in the darkness of the sex trade.
Our research shows that although the federal government provides some funding to support victims of human trafficking, the vast majority of that money is directed to foreign nationals. Funding and services are especially scarce for the domestic minor victims of human trafficking. Nationwide there are fewer than 70 beds for the safe recovery of victims.
Arrow Child & Family Ministries and the Michael Reagan Center are participating in the Safe House Now Taskforce -- a model program that brings together representatives of the FBI, local law enforcement, the courts, the United States and District Attorneys, Child Protective Services and Juvenile Probation, women’s groups, non-profits and faith organizations to develop a program that will provide therapeutic, educational, and housing to children caught up in sex trafficking.
The task force has identified Arrow Child & Family Ministries as the organization that will house and provide the program needed for these children. We have developed a therapeutic and educational model that can be replicated nationwide.
There’s nothing magical about the Super Bowl. Predatory monsters who destroy the innocent lives of children are everywhere. It’s time that caring adults take a strong stand against those who sexually exploit and abuse children.