Sex-Trafficking Sting Shows Foster Children are Especially Vulnerable

The FBI announced on Monday that a nationwide sex-trafficking sting rescued 105 sexually exploited teenagers, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The three-day sting covering 76 cities focused on underage victims of prostitution and resulted in 150 suspected pimps being apprehended. In San Francisco alone, officers rescued 12 juveniles and arrested 17 pimps.

The raids, executed by nearly 4,000 total officers, highlighted the vulnerability of foster children to child sex traffickers:

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the information clearinghouse that tracks missing child reports in the United States, 60% of runaways who are victims of sex trafficking had been in the custody of social services or in foster care.

The center assisted the FBI in the raids as part of the Innocence Lost Initiative, which has rescued more than 2,700 sexually exploited children over the past decade. According to the center’s officials, foster children are especially at-risk of being targeted by sex-traffickers.

“We are finding a very disturbing trend,” John Ryan, the center’s chief executive, said at a news conference at FBI headquarters. “They leave foster care and they literally fall off the radar. That’s something that needs to be addressed.”

The circumstances that put minors into foster care are often what make them especially vulnerable to sex trafficking, said Staca Shehan, director of the center’s case analysis division.

“These kids are usually without an involved parent,” she said in a telephone interview. “Pimps can come into their life and initially take on the role of protector.”

Shehan adds that because foster children often don’t have a family working on their behalf, it can be especially difficult to keep them from cycling in and out of the sex trafficking world. In some cases, victims even recruit their friends in group homes to join them.

CAS Research and Education, a Sacramento-based nonprofit group that combats human trafficking, is working to find families in California that are willing to adopt youth vulnerable to or rescued from sex trafficking. While less than one percent of all California children are in foster care, half of all sexually trafficked minors in the state come from the foster care system. The group believes that giving these children appropriate homes is the key to keeping them from being targeted by pimps:

“We need to recruit healthy, specialized, viable families” to give the children a place to belong, [said Rosario Dowling, program director for the group’s northern district].