Tami joined IYI as president and CEO in April 2016. Prior to joining the organization, Tami served as the CEO and executive director for Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity, Inc. for three years after spending 14 years as CEO for Sojourn Shelter & Services, Inc. in Springfield, Illinois, a public health services agency focused on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse victims. Among Tami’s honors, appointments and professional affiliations are service on the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. She previously served on the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services Juvenile Justice Task Force, was a member of Illinois Women in Leadership, and is a member of Indiana University’s Society of Aeons. Tami is a native of Indiana and a graduate of the IU Kelley School of Business. She earned a master’s degree and is nearing completion of a doctoral degree, in public administration from the University of Illinois.
Our Kids Are Not for Sale
By: Tami Silverman
Child sex trafficking is a hidden but persistent form of child abuse in Indiana and nationwide. While awareness and prosecution rates are rising, the young victims of this horrific crime need our support and assistance. To help prevent these crimes, we must better understand how Indiana children are being exploited, as well as the responsibility and resources available to help us take action when we suspect a child is in danger.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children happens when someone buys, sells or trades something for sexual acts involving minors. This may include selling a child for sex acts, child pornography, or sexually explicit videos or pictures. Survival sex, another form of this crime, preys on runaway teens by promising them food, clothing or shelter in exchange for sex acts.
It’s difficult for many of us to understand why child sex trafficking ever happens. Some reasons include money, power, customer demand and the persistence of underreporting. The recruiter – also known as the trafficker, abuser and/or pimp – typically profits from the exchange.
While child sex crimes are reported as occurring on the street, in homes and through businesses such as escort services and some massage parlors, more cases are being facilitated through social media and the internet. This technology has removed some of the geographic barriers. Melissa Snow, a child sex trafficking expert from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the change enables traffickers to “literally throw hundreds of lines in the water” and not be limited only to those “they can recruit at their local mall or bus stop.”
Teens are specifically targeted because they are more easily influenced, less experienced and more vulnerable. Victims are often runaways or homeless, have likely experienced prior abuse or violence, and may lack confidence or struggle to fit in with peers. As with many youth-related issues, teachers may be a-first-line of defense. To help schools identify potential victims, the U.S. Department of Education outlines indicators including students who lack control over their schedule, have unexplained absences, show bruises or signs of physical trauma, and have seemingly rehearsed answers to questions.
This heightened awareness means more cases of child sex trafficking are being identified and prosecuted. Media attention on these cases has also increased. Experts note that the increased coverage has positive and negative impacts. One upside is the number of people and organizations now involved in awareness and prevention efforts. However, movies and TV shows often portray an unrealistic picture of trafficking that focuses on dramatic kidnappings. Aubrey Lloyd, a trafficking survivor and victim advocate, reports that less than one in ten child sex trafficking cases involve kidnapping. She says in most cases — including her own — it starts with someone building an intense relationship with the child, investing significant amounts of time focused on exploiting the young person’s insecurities. Tragically, it’s also not uncommon for victims to be exposed to trafficking by their families. Robin Donaldson of the Indiana Youth Services Association says a large share of traffickers in Indiana are family members, specifically parents. This is seen most often as a consequence of a heroin or meth addiction when parents might resort to trafficking their children as a way to secure more drugs.
Every adult Hoosier is a legally mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect. You can call 1-800-800-5556 to file a report. In addition to reporting suspected cases, we can all address this crime through sharing accurate information, prevention strategies and victim resources. We must educate kids about the potential risks of sharing too much information on social media. Parents need to actively monitor their child’s online activity. If you recognize a child in urgent need of assistance, contact police or Child Protective Services. For more assistance and information on human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at-1-888-373-7888 or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
By talking to our children, raising awareness, expanding resources, supporting the victims and reporting abuse, we can make it clear that our kids are not for sale.
(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)