Also this month, Connecticut lawmakers boosted the penalties for those found to be intentionally buying or selling children for sex.
Washington –- With members of Congress worried that states have been lax in reporting and addressing the problem of children being sold for sex, Connecticut was pointed to at a Senate hearing Tuesday as a potential model.
“You all in Connecticut seem to have figured out how to put together a comprehensive strategy,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said to Joette Katz, the head of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families.
Katz responded that “shining a light” on the issue is the best thing you can do to combat child sex trafficking.
And her agency has tried to do that by training teachers, police and hospital staff on how to identify victims and get them to refer them to DCF so the victims get the help they need.
During the last few years, 130 girls and boys in Connecticut have been identified as child sex slaves -- nearly all of them foster children in DCF custody.
The commissioner was invited to testify at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on legislation Wyden has introduced, with the support of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and other Senate colleagues, aimed at fighting the exploitation of children. Blumenthal, with Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, started the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking in 2012.
There is evidence that selling children for sex has become a booming criminal business, generating an estimated $32 billion a year.
Wyden’s legislation, the Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act of 2013, would require state child welfare agencies to report the number of children identified as victims of sex trafficking and immediately report the identity of any child missing or abducted from care.
But Katz said the legislation would not go far enough. She said it would not include reporting requirements of minors who are exploited in the workplace nor provide states with money to fund programs that fight the sexual exploitation of children.
Katz testified that Connecticut has approved several laws in recent years aimed at ending the exploitation of children.
One requires law enforcement officials in the state to refer minors to her department for help instead of arresting them for prostitution.
"From prostitute to victim," she told the panel.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, agrees.
"Raped and abused children should not be treated as criminals," he said.
"These girls are too young to give consent... It is simply unacceptable that state child welfare systems are failing to serve these girls," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The state also has a call-in phone number for police and victims to contact the department for services.
Katz said the most powerful weapon against child sex trafficking is the dissemination of information about the plight of the victims and how they are ensnared.
“Once you hear about it you never forget, and you want to know what you can do to help,” she said.
Joette Katz, the leader of Connecticut's child welfare agency testifies
Included in her testimony for the panel were the stories of two children in Connecticut sold for sex.
The U.S. government estimates 200,000 American children are trafficked each year. Most are runaway and homeless youth.
“One out of every three teens will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home,” Katz said.
One change to state law Katz has been unsuccessful in getting legislators to pass is to allow police to go after publishers that run advertisements for escort services that leads to children being sold for sex.
"There need to be more financial consequences... The publisher that publish these newspaper ads do so with completely impunity and I question that quite frankly," she told the finance panel.
Asia Snow, the program coordinator for exploited children in Maryland and a victim of the child sex trade, testified about being forced out of her home when she was 16 because she failed to pay her father rent. Living on the street, Snow said she fell under the control of an abusive pimp.
For three years Snow said she was sold to strangers, in hotel rooms and even at the racetrack. She said she was beaten often, especially when she became pregnant and tried to flee.
She lost the baby, but fortunately a policewoman helped protect her from her abusers and remake her life.
“I did not wake up one morning and say, “I want to be a prostitute’,” Snow said. “No girl chooses to be a slave. Yet girls like me are the face of modern day slavery in America.”
Senate bill would treat sex trafficking as child abuse for victims
By Associated Press, Jun 11, 2013 10:11 PM EDT
WASHINGTON — Child prostitutes would be considered victims of abuse rather than juvenile offenders and be referred to child welfare officials under legislation in Congress aimed at extending care to them before they become ensnared in the criminal justice system.
“In much of the country today if a girl is found in the custody of a so-called pimp she is not considered to be a victim of abuse, and that’s just wrong and defies common sense,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, where lawmakers heard a 25-year-old woman recount how the child welfare system failed her nearly a decade earlier.
Asia Graves, now a Maryland-based advocate for sexually exploited girls, told of being kicked out of her home by her father at the age of 16 and soon found herself with a man who took her in during a Boston snowstorm. After a week of living comfortably, things changed.
“He told me that he was a pimp, and I was his property,” Graves said.
“I did not wake up one morning and say that I wanted to be a prostitute,” she said. “There is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute’ because legally, children cannot consent to be sold for sex. No girl chooses to be a slave. Yet, girls like me are the face of modern day slavery in America.”
Michelle Guymon, a probation officer in Los Angeles, told the committee that pimps prey on girls like Graves who are left without a home and seek comfort and a place to stay.
“He may pose as a boyfriend or parental figure, offering to provide her with food, clothes, shelter, security, even love,” said Guymon. “Later, after an emotional bond has been established, she is forced to engage in commercial sexual acts or face brutal physical violence.”
Joette Katz, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, quoted a decade-old Justice Department report’s estimates that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
“The tough background and unstable upbringing of many foster youth increases their risk of exploitation,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Too often, sexually exploited children have nowhere to go for help. The people they turn to don’t know how to handle these cases.”
The legislation, co-sponsored by Wyden and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.