When I first learned about child sex trafficking, it was during a presentation about child brothels in Cambodia. Of course, that was hard enough to stomach, much less thinking about it happening to children where I live. But it is happening to kids here, every day.
However, the United States has a very different way of trafficking children.
There typically aren’t large scale brothels here full of children that any customer can walk into. The “brothels” of the USA are most certainly functioning, but it’s not in a physical location. It’s online.
Predators, buyers, and traffickers are grooming, harming, exploiting, and selling kids online.
It’s happening on mainstream apps and “normal” websites all over the internet. This is not something people have to go to the dark web to access.
For example, a 16-year-old female was being treated at a hospital recently for a medical condition. She was screened for trafficking and started to disclose many concerning things from her childhood of trauma.
She had an abortion when she was 11 years old. She disclosed drug use, many sex partners, and many instances of sexual assault.
She also disclosed that a 17-year-old male was selling her through OnlyFans. A mainstream website that attracts millions of people to it.
He was coercing her into creating nude images for subscribers and he would take her money. Not only is she too young to consent to be on the OnlyFans site, but she was being coerced and manipulated into sex acts that were being sold online.
Her trafficker also would threaten to send her nude images to people if she didn’t comply with his wishes (also known as sextortion).
This is trafficking. The buyers on OnlyFans who are paying to see a naked 16-year-old are just as complicit in abuse as the tourist walking into a brothel in Cambodia thousands of miles away.
Even if trafficking takes a different form here, the trauma is still the same for every victim who experiences it.
It’s important for us to be aware that trafficking is happening in plain sight, but it’s often normalized or dismissed, which makes accurate education on the issue so important.
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