Child abduction and sex trafficking are major problems in the US

The abduction of hundreds of Nigerian school girls by the extremist group Boko Haram in recent months has received a lot of attention through social media outlets. This tragic situation has rightfully created outrage, but many human rights activists have lost sight of the fact that human trafficking is also happening in the United States on a grand scale.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities and has been described by the Department of Justice as “a crime of epidemic proportion.” Upwards of 300,000 people are trafficked around the country each year, 85 percent of them being citizens. It has generated more revenue than the sale of illegal firearms and other black market trades in the last ten years, earning roughly $39 billion in profits annually around the world. Some law enforcement officials predict that it will be more lucrative than the sale of drugs in the next decade.

Traffickers target the most vulnerable members of our society, the very children that many adults claim to cherish more than themselves. The exploiters prey upon young children, usually girls ages 12 to 14 according to several reports. One out of three children living on the street will be lured into prostitution within the first 48 hours. If they are ensnared in such a trap, they are at high risk of being turned into “reusable commodities” as they are forced into lives of servitude, forced labor and sexual abuse.

The Urban Institute, a non-partisan Washington D.C. think tank, released a troubling study, entitled “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities” in March 2014. The study found that “Child pornography is an escalating problem and has become increasingly graphic with younger victims.”

The study was funded in 2010 by the National Institute of Justice to measure the size and structure of the underground commercial sex economy in eight US cities. Cities involved in the research process included San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC, Kansas City, Atlanta, and Miami. The authors of the report also concluded, “The underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) generates millions of dollars annually, yet investigation and data collection remain under reproduced.”

Recently a large-scale federal investigation, which received little attention in the American media, helped confirm many of the unsettling claims made in the UI study.

On March 18, it was announced that 14 men were arrested in connection to a child prostitution and pornography ring operating within the US. The investigation was spearheaded by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Inspection Service of the United States Postal Service, where they identified “251 minor victims in 39 states and five foreign countries: 228 in the United States and 23 in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium.”

International publications and news sites such as the BBC, Pravda and Latinos Post reported on this investigation, which has been considered to be one of the most important of its kind in recent memory. However it is fairly well established that most of the news coverage on this subject focuses on sex trafficking in other countries, such as Nigeria, Cambodia, Ghana, and others, but not in the so-called land of the free.

A large percentage of American citizens simply ignore these allegations because they are too disturbing to accept as a fact of life. Even local authorities, who are used to seeing the seedy underbelly of American society on a regular basis, have doubts about the extent of this problem. One investigator estimated that “75 percent of local law enforcement leaders think human trafficking is non-existent in their community.”

This is an ugly topic seldom discussed in American life, especially when the subject hits too close to home. Just because people do not want to believe such things can happen in their own backyard does not contradict the reality that countless numbers of children are forced to live with, and to ignore it is to become a silent conspirator to modern day slavery.

Mike Kuhlenbeck is a freelance journalist and author whose work has appeared in The Des Moines Register, Z Magazine and Little Village. He is a proud member of the National Writers Union and the Society of Professional Journalists. He can be reached at

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