WASHINGTON (SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP) — Studies published Thursday revealed that more children are being sexually exploited than ever before.
A two-year global study found that the sexual exploitation “is an endemic phenomenon throughout the world.”
“The report findings come despite a 20-year multi-sector effort to end the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (SECTT),” a release on the studies’ findings reads.
“The extent of SECTT has increased drastically and its nature has changed dramatically,” according to the global report.
The study was initiated by ECPAT International, a non-governmental organization with affiliates in 85 countries and based in Bangkok, Thailand.
Chair of ECPAT’s Board of Trustees, Carol Bellamy, called the study’s findings “a wake-up call for public and private sector leaders in the United States and around the world.”
“We urge governments, regional and international bodies, the travel and tourism industry, the technology industry, law enforcement, non-governmental organizations and the public to heed the stark findings of this study and take action.”
The study reportedly “creates the largest data bank on SECTT and recommendations.”
Among the recommendations made were the expansion of rehabilitation services for victims, the creation of an “effective, proactive, global system for law enforcement agencies to share information regarding offenders,” and converting the UN Tourism Code of Ethics into an international convention with worldwide ratification.”
The study also recommends creating reporting systems in every country and working with online service providers to remedy the growing sale of children for sex via the internet.”
“In its regional reviews the Global Study highlighted that the United States and Canada are source countries for offenders, who travel to other regions in order to sexually exploit children,” according to the report.
“The explosion of the internet and mobile technology has afforded perpetrators anonymity and hidden pathways to groom children and seduce them via social media and internet games,” the report found.
“Likewise, new travel and tourism services like home-stays, ‘volun-tourism’ and the sharing economy have increased this anonymity and heightened children’s vulnerability,” the Regional Report for North America echoed.
‘Volun-tourism,’ the study explained “refers to a short-term volunteer experience that is combined with travel for work, study or leisure.”
The volunteering could consist of a few hours of work, the purchase of a ‘volun-tourism’ package or time spent with an ongoing development or humanitarian aid project. The volun-tourism industry is a lucrative one, believed to have generated $2.6 billion dollars in 2014.
Volun-tourism has long been popular among tourists from the U.S. and Australia, according to ECPAT’s findings, and is gaining popularity among European travelers.
Popular volun-tourism destinations include South and Southeast Asia and Africa and it takes different forms “while Bhutan mainly attracts long-term volunteers who bring technical expertise, Cambodia has seen a rise in the number of ‘orphanage tourists.’“
Acknowledging the positive effects volun-tourism can have on local communities, the study notes that volun-tourism can “also present risks, especially for children.”
“The involvement of volun-tourists in activities that bring them into direct contact with children creates opportunities for preferential and situational offenders to gain access to potential victims,” the study found.
“There have been several documented cases of North Americans committing sex crimes against children under the guise of humanitarian work,” The study of North America noted.
“Such cases have involved NGO staff, English teachers and aid workers occupying positions providing direct access to vulnerable children,” the report states noting the increased attention being paid to “volun-tourism and the risks associated with close, often unsupervised contact between adults and vulnerable children.”
“A number of North Americans visiting or working in orphanages have been found guilty of sex crimes against children,” according to the study of North America.
The report notes there is also an element of SECTT that concerns the military, citing “ample evidence that SECTT has grown on defunct U.S. military bases in the Philippines.”
“In Canada, child marriage is yet another form of child sexual exploitation which can equate to SECTT: in many cases, both perpetrators and victims move within or across borders.”
Domestically, the North America report found that SECTT “is widespread and takes a number of forms.”
“While North America is not usually considered a ‘sex tourism’ destination, some research has examined the linkages between sex industries and tourism in a small number of cities,” the North America report described.
“Of serious concern is the extensive use of the North American travel and tourism infrastructure by offenders, locals and outsiders alike,” according to the North American report.
The report listed venues such as hotels, motels, bus and railroad stations and roadside rest areas that have provided an enabling environment to the sexual exploitation of children.
The Global Study included the account of an American woman named Kate who spent 10 years being exploited.
“So much of trafficking and exploitation happens in public spaces, “Kate wrote, citing her own experience as an example.
“I was taken to truck stops,” she recalled, noting how while it may have looked like her exploiter was her father “the very fact that I was 4,5,6 years old at a truck stop in the middle of the night on a school night – that really should have raised some flags.”
“I think a lot of the time the general perceptions of sexually exploited people is, well, there’s the happy hooker. Or there’s the disposable child,” Kate speculated.
“Or – the exploited person is smiling, saying he or she is having fun,” Kate listed, explaining that what the outside observer is missing is that when she was a child she looked like she was having fun “because I wanted it to be over with quicker.”
“I knew what the person was paying for.”
Kate recalled being exploited in the late 70s and early 80s, adding that “this is still going on.”
“This happens all around the United States,” Kate said.
While the crime of child exploitation is a shared one, the efforts to end it vary from state to state.
Shared Hope International maps how states address and “respond to the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking.”
Examining issues such as the criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking and criminal provisions for facilitators, Shared Hope International assigns a grade to each state. States including Texas and Washington received A grades. Texas for example, was found to have “a full range of criminal laws against domestic minor sex trafficking; however, minors are subject to prosecution for prostitution and may face barriers to treatment and victims’ compensation to fund their recovery.”
States such as California and Maine received lower marks, earning Ds.
While California’s laws protect victims of child sex trafficking “without requiring proof of force, fraud or coercion,” Shared Hope International notes that “ paying for sex acts with a minor and benefiting financially from assisting or enabling sex trafficking are not punishable under the human trafficking law.”
Maine was found to have “low penalties for buyers and facilitators.”
The varying laws from state to state and even country to country highlight one of the study’s findings: the divide between the varying locations these crimes are occurring makes the challenge of ending this victimization even greater.
“Enforcement and prosecution of offenders is hindered by a lack of coordination and information sharing between authorities; there are alarmingly low conviction rates for the sexual exploitation of children, which means the majority of offenders evade justice,” the study concluded.