Sex Trafficking In The News

Statement from ECPAT-USA on Secretary Alex Acosta

It is an affront to young victims of sex trafficking everywhere for Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta to remain in his position, especially in the aftermath of his press conference in which he defended his behavior overseeing the criminal prosecution case of serial child sex predator, Jeffrey Epstein.  

Portraying himself as a hero, Mr. Acosta deflected all the blame toward the State of Florida and the Palm Beach state prosecutor’s office.  Mr. Acosta remained unapologetic to the victims.   

Since the press conference took place, the former state's attorney in Palm Beach County, Florida issued a statement saying that Acosta’s office had drafted a 53-page indictment against Epstein that it never filed.   

ECPAT-USA has worked for 29 years to ensure that children are protected from sexual exploitation. The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act became law in 2000 and is the premier tool available to federal prosecutors to indict people who sexually prey upon children. This law and other federal anti-trafficking legislation drew bipartisan support because there is broad national agreement that children should be protected from sex trafficking.  But bipartisan and broad agreement means nothing if prosecutors are not willing to use these laws against those who abuse children.   

Acosta’s press conference left open a number of unanswered questions and anomalies in the case that other federal prosecutors have raised since he spoke.  We call on the Trump administration to live up to its stated commitment to fight human trafficking by asking Mr. Acosta for his resignation.  

ECPAT-USA, the nation’s leader in eradicating child exploitation and trafficking, remains determined to keep this issue in the public eye and to ensure that Mr. Acosta is held responsible for his irresponsible actions as U.S. Attorney.

We All Have a Role to Play to Protect Children, But First Acosta Must Be Removed and Investigated

If you looked solely at international reviews, you would see that United States always gets high marks of its legal infrastructure to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.  It has all the bases covered: criminalizing and prescribing high penalties for child sex trafficking, child sexual abuse material (child pornography), and child abuse.  

However, the excellence of our laws means nothing of course, if they are consistently undermined by a criminal justice system that refuses to hold the rich and powerful to account.  Of course this is a reference to the financier Jeffrey Epstein who has been indicted by the U.S. Attorney in New York for sex trafficking of children.  Soon, no doubt, charges of creation and possession of child abuse imagery will be added to the indictment.  

The Epstein case has all the elements that are the hallmark of a child sex trafficking case:  identifying vulnerable children and youth, preying upon their vulnerabilities, gradually wearing away any resistance to sexual exploitation and abuse, paying them for sex, asking them to recruit other young girls for sex, and offering them to other men. 

ECPAT-USA has spent many years working to make changes to a system that has allowed these forms of abuse in the United States to continue.  Through our long-time advocacy in cooperation with numerous other organizations around the country, we have built a movement that did two things.  First, it began with building community knowledge about the horrific crime of child sex trafficking in the United States, and what we need to do to stop it. Second, it moved on to advocating for our elected officials to make changes to laws and systems to protect vulnerable children. We continue to be successful in building a strong network of federal and state laws, but clearly, as shown by the Epstein case, we failed to ensure that the criminal justice system firmly enforces those laws.

The fact that the former U.S. Attorney for the Miami district, Alex Acosta, the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, signed off on a sweetheart deal for Jeffrey Epstein in 2008 shows the depth of the corruption of the system.  It was a secret deal that failed to follow the law by informing the victims that a plea bargain was being negotiated and accepted. The punishment he received was the gentlest slap on the wrist.  It is clear now there were many, many more victims in more than one city, and the criminal justice system let those victims down.    

Powerful men have long been protected for their abhorrent behavior, even for actions as universally scorned as child sex abuse and child sex trafficking. ECPAT-USA will soon publish a report about child sexual abuse material in the United States with recommendations for how all sectors of society have a role to play.  Importantly, we must not continue to let powerful national leaders evade responsibility.  ECPAT-USA calls for the removal of Mr. Acosta from his position as the head of a federal agency and further calls for an investigation into his role in the favoritism revealed in the sweetheart, hush-hush deal that he gave Mr. Epstein.

Thanks to the critical work of journalists at the Miami Herald this story was unearthed and received renewed attention. Today, we sent a letter to the White House calling for Mr. Acosta’s resignation and a full investigation because we believe our criminal justice system should place itself in a position to offer protection and hope to victims, especially children. Raise your voice to help protect children across the country by writing your own letter or supporting our programs working toward a world where no child is bought, sold or used for sex.

We cannot - and will not - let this case slip under the radar again.

Cover image via U.S. Department of Labor

As Child Sex Abuse Cases Fill the News, Don’t Be A Bystander

For many, many years child exploitation and abuse perpetrated by people in positions of authority have been ignored or downplayed. Too many of those whose role in society it is to defend the vulnerable, enforce laws that protect children, or call for justice for them have been shown to be using their positions of authority to exploit and abuse, or at the least, to be complicit in letting it go forward. Some of them are finally being brought to justice, but that’s probably the tip of the iceberg.

There has been a constant drumbeat in the news in the last few weeks about long-festering cases of child exploitation that are now coming into the public eye:

  • Jeffrey Epstein given a very meagre sentence by the then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta (now Secretary of Labor).

  • R. Kelly arrested for sexually exploiting 4 young women, 3 of whom were under 18 years old.

  • The documentary by HBO about Michael Jackson’s “relationship” with young boys.

  • The Catholic Church just completed a summit meeting at the Vatican about systemic child abuse for decades.

  • The Southern Baptist Convention having to now deal with child abuse that was reported for years but never addressed.

  • Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been accused of soliciting sex in Florida after a large-scale investigation into sex trafficking in the state.

The natural question is how to respond, what can and should be done to fight this? For over 25 years, ECPAT-USA has been working to end the sexual exploitation of children through:

Working with the private sector to train key people in how to identify trafficking and how to report it. We do this in the travel industry, where most of the large hotels chains have signed our Code of Conduct and implemented training for staff. Marriott hotels trained 500,000 associates in the last year to identify and report trafficking. And that is just one company. And there have already been cases where an employee saved a young person.

Empowering youth in New York City through educating middle and high school students to recognize the signs of when they are being groomed by a predator.

Raising awareness of the issue and championing legislation that supports trafficking survivors.

While the recent news stories about trafficking can be overwhelming, reporting on the issue is also important. It lets victims know that this is not something they have to accept and that they can come forward. And it lets someone being approached know that they don’t have to succumb.

And the increased reporting is forcing institutions that have ignored the problem for years to finally deal with it.