In The News

Takedown Of Massive CSAM Website Illustrates The Work That Remains to Protect Children From Online Exploitation

The investigation into the “dark web” pornography site, Welcome to Video, led to 337 arrests spanning 38 countries. The site was taken down by an international task force spearheaded by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) in collaboration with agencies in the U.S., South Korea, and Germany. The operation also led to the recovery of 23 minor victims who were being actively abused. In the United States, 92 individuals had their residences and business search as a result of the investigation.

Since the advent of the internet, trafficking has increasingly moved online, endangering young children more than ever before. Facilitation of such websites is due in large part to the advent of cryptocurrencies, and Welcome to Video was one of the first to utilize bitcoin in online trafficking. At the time of its takedown, the site was the largest child sexual exploitation market. The 250,000 videos commercialized child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) were downloaded over a million times.

The dark net is widely used in the trafficking of illegal goods and content; encryption tactics allow for the posting and selling of CSAM. However, Welcome to Video’s takedown is a sign that dark web child sex offenders cannot hide from law enforcement. The dark web platform was discovered through an NCA investigation into a single offender. Officials were able to analyze cryptocurrency transactions, revealing hundreds of buyers around the globe. Although this marks a great victory against dark net trafficking, the issue grows more complicated and insidious by the day.

Millions of videos and images of children are uploaded daily to sites like Welcome to Video, often featuring very young children. A 2018 study on CSAM by INTERPOL and ECPAT International found that younger victims are more likely to experience extreme abuse. The takedown of this site is one victory in a larger puzzle. International offensives must continue against dark web sites that profit on CSAM, for this issue spans the entire globe.

ECPAT-USA, U.S. Department of Transportation Pledge to End Human Trafficking

This month, ECPAT-USA signed onto the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking (TLAHT) initiative to bring together stakeholders in the transportation and travel industry to fight trafficking and exploitation. As a partner in this campaign, ECPAT-USA has committed to educating employees, raising awareness and measuring our collective impact in the fight to protect children across the country.

Launched in 2012, DOT’s TLAHT initiative works with public and private sector stakeholders to empower transportation employees and the traveling public to recognize and report possible instances of human trafficking. TLAHT’s five focus areas include industry leadership, industry training, and education, policy development, public awareness, and information-sharing and analysis. DOT calls on transportation leaders to sign the TLAHT pledge, issue a leadership statement, train employees, and raise public awareness.

Last October, ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement, Michelle Guelbart, was appointed to the United States Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking. Guelbart was one of 15 individuals to serve on the committee that provided information, advice, and recommendations to the DOT on matters relating to the intersection of human trafficking and transportation.

“Through our decades-long work with the private sector and with government officials, we have seen the progress that can be made when industries unite to work together toward one common goal: protecting every child’s right to grow up free from the fear of exploitation,” said Guelbart. “We are proud to partner with the U.S. Department of Transportation on their Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking.”

“Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, the DOT is empowering transportation organizations, employees and the traveling public with the knowledge to recognize and report suspected instances of human trafficking. This TLAHT partnership is an impressive step forward, one that highlights the dedication of this community in taking a stand to end human trafficking. It will make a difference in many lives,” said David Short, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs.

To learn more about our work with the private sector click here.

International Day of the Girl: Victories of 2019

Each year October 11th marks the International Day of the Girl Child. This U.N.-declared holiday serves to promote the empowerment of girls and their human rights, and shed light on the struggles they face around the world. In honor of this holiday, we have compiled important victories in the fight against sex trafficking from the past year.

The start of the year saw the release of Cyntoia Brown after 15 years in prison. At just 16 years old Brown was sex trafficked and, fearing for her life, shot the man who picked her up. Brown was tried as an adult and convicted to a life sentence. Her story sparked public interest that grew over the years and even garnered support from celebrates. Finally, in January of 2019 Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency. Following her release, she said in her statement, “I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation.” Brown’s release marks an important shift, culturally and politically, in recognizing children sold for sex should not be treated as criminals but as child sex trafficking survivors.

In July, an FBI operation led to the recovery of over 100 child sex trafficking victims across the United States. Dubbed Operation Independence Day, this initiative involved 400 law enforcement agencies and resulted in the arrest of 67 suspected traffickers. Much of the operation’s success was attributed to its length. In the past, nationwide sweeps by the FBI were conducted in only a week. Lasting a full month, Operation Independence Day allowed agents to build rapport with victims and cases against traffickers. As a result of their diligence 60 new federal investigations have opened.

This year saw an increase in multiple industries’ involvement in combating human trafficking. In June, the American Hotel & Lodging Association launched No Room for Trafficking, a national campaign seeking to advance the hospitality industry’s growing commitment to issue. Delta Air Lines donated 2.5 million dollars’ worth of flights to the Polaris Project through their SkyWish program. Delta, the first carrier to sign on to ECPAT's Child-Protection Code of Conduct, also launched an in-flight video to educate passengers on trafficking potentially occurring next to them. Also this year, ECPAT-USA launched the 20BY20 campaign aimed at training 20,000 employees in the hospitality, airline, and events industry by the year 2020. Awareness of human trafficking is crucial for these employees as they are the first line of defense in combating the issue.

These are just some of the many victories made this year in the fight against human trafficking. Although awareness and commitment to the issue spreads each day, the fight is far from over. In 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were victims of human trafficking worldwide. The most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation; its victims are predominantly women and girls and nearly 20 percent of all trafficking victims are children. 

#NoFilter: Social Media, Sex, and the Untouchable

In the #NoFilter series, private sector engagement interns Ashley Solle and Nicole Phocas discuss youth, social media, and society in the context of the recent Jeffrey Epstein case.

The recent death of Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on child sex trafficking and child pornography* charges, has pushed conversations on the link between power and child sexual exploitation in the United States out of the shadows, at least for a minute. 

This is far from the first case in recent history of a wealthy, powerful man abusing his standing to manipulate and coerce children to participate in sexual acts; Robert Kraft, Terry Richardson, Larry Nassar, and R Kelly are just some of the other names that come to mind. These men abused their positions and targeted children -- usually teenage girls -- from vulnerable populations. They exploited the vulnerable child’s weakened emotional state and took advantage of problematic societal norms surrounding the over-sexualization of youth. Of course the blame lies with the abusers, but these cultural standards we’ve created have taken on a new life with social media, contributing to the ease with which traffickers can recruit victims. The problem involves youth of all genders, but since Jeffrey Epstein abused girls and since most of what we’re criticizing is based in sexist and patriarchal norms, we’ve chosen to take a female-centric approach. Besides, as women ourselves -- from the first generation to grow up with social media, no less -- we can’t help but call out how platforms like Instagram encourage certain unattainable ideals for young girls in particular. 

Like anything, social media can be a wonderful tool to access information but it also has unintended consequences. The popularity of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat has paved the way for body positive and sex positive social movements which promote a healthy snapshot of what a relationship should look like. However, posts on these platforms tend to only show the beautiful and glamorous side of life. This can be an especially damaging thing for a teenage girl in a vulnerable position, whether it’s an unstable family life, history of abuse, poverty, or lack of opportunities. When she sees the perceived happiness of their favorite Instagram influencer or celebrity, she is willing to take steps to get to this lifestyle of private jets, yachts, expensive dinners, and celebrity. When a wealthy, powerful, charismatic man like Jeffrey Epstein or R. Kelly pays attention to her, says he loves her, and offers her these things, how could she say no? Why would she want to? 

Sex-positive images posted on social media by teenagers are not an excuse to sexualize them without their consent. By ignoring the problem, we are telling these children that their bodies are not their own.

The impunity that society gives wealthy and powerful men for sexual exploitation goes way beyond the individual. Our culture has an enormous problem with the over-sexualization of teens. Just to be clear, there is a massive difference between sex positivity and sexualization. Sex positivity encourages and promotes the expression of sexuality as a healthy and natural occurance when placed in the context of consent and autonomy. Sexualization is related to assigning sexuality to someone or something else, regardless of the subject’s knowledge or consent. For example, if a teen girl chooses to embrace her sexuality and post a photo on Instagram in a bikini, she has every right to do that. Regardless of her intent, no one should be sexualizing the image without her explicit consent. By contacting the girl who posted the photo, under the assumption that because she posted the photo she automatically wants sex, the viewer is over-sexualizing that person. We’ve both had instances of men, both older and our own age, harassing us on social media for innocent photos we posted, even when we were underage. There has been an issue with sexualizing teenage girls for ages: “sexy schoolgirl culture,” the young age that lingerie models begin high profile careers, and countdowns for underage female actresses turning eighteen. Because of the anonymous nature of social media, this sort of behavior is becoming more normalized. Sex-positive images posted on social media by teenagers are not an excuse to sexualize them without their consent. By ignoring the problem, we are telling these children that their bodies are not their own. 

The oversexualization of teens is not just happening online, however. These norms and ideals perpetuated by social media are manifesting into real, physical transactions between teenagers and older adults. Our next blog will discuss this more, but one thing is certainly becoming a trend at this point: older men who use their power and wealth as an excuse to rape and traffic children face little consequence, and their friends are often involved. While we can’t entirely blame society for the actions of child predators, the twisted promotion of teenagers as an oversexualized ideal is certainly not helping change the narrative.

Wealthy, powerful men like Epstein coerce and exploit vulnerable youth by promising a lifestyle they see as unattainable. Cultural standards that validate exploitative behavior have existed for decades, but with progress comes new ways to trick, coerce, or force children into dangerous situations. Social media is a platform that normalizes these standards even further, but we can’t blame the platform for the culture. Change comes by recognizing that we live in a country where justice favors powerful men over vulnerable children and by reminding these men that they are not untouchable. 

*A note on language: While the legal term related to his charge is child pornography, ECPAT-USA urges society to move away from the term child pornography because it equates child sexual abuse to a legal industry and reduces the severity of the crime. Instead, we advocate for the use of the term child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Review our Terminology Guidelines here.

READ MORE:

#NoFilter: Media Coverage of the Epstein Case 

ECPAT-USA Statement on Jeffrey Epstein’s Death

Grooming: Is R Kelly Using the Same Tactics as Human Traffickers to Control His Victims? 

ECPAT-USA Report on Child Sexual Abuse Material

ECPAT Terminology Guidelines

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

Coming Soon - #NoFilter: Seeking Innocence in an Online Dating Culture



#NoFilter: Media Coverage of the Epstein Case

In the #NoFilter series, private sector engagement interns Ashley Solle and Nicole Phocas discuss youth, social media, and society in the context of the recent Jeffrey Epstein indictment.

There are literally millions of images and videos depicting child sexual abuse on the internet right now, and findings of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are growing exponentially. Between 2015-2018, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's (NCMEC) CyberTipline noted a 4 fold increase in CSAM reports, from 4.4 million to 18.2 million. In the last few years, we have heard countless stories about wealthy, well-connected men abusing their power to exploit children. These men include household names like R Kelly, Bill Cosby, Jerry Sandusky, Kevin Spacey, Jared Fogle, Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Savile, Woody Allen, Larry Nassar, and countless religious leaders. The recent MeToo Movement has exposed the systemic sexual harassment and abuse of women and children which has been going on for centuries. In past blog posts, we have gone into depth on the sexualization of youth in our culture. And then we have Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire businessman who sexually exploited, trafficked, and raped children for decades without consequences. He has been given a pass by the media, who have portrayed a diluted version of the events that played out. Even now, after his apparent suicide, the media are focusing more on promoting conspiracy theories than on getting justice for the children he abused. 

Mainstream media outlets such as Rolling Stone, Boston Globe, and Forbes, to name a few, use a variation of the phrase “nude photos of underage girls” in reference to child sexual abuse material found in Epstein’s Manhattan mansion. The words “nude photos” and “children” should not exist in the same sentence. Nude photos of children are not art and they are not okay. They should be portrayed as what they are: illegal child abuse imagery. One article from the New York Post, which we honestly thought came from the Onion when we first opened it, even used the phrase “kiddie porn.” Need we say more?

Beyond more extreme phrases like “kiddie porn”, even the most reputable news sources still have a long way to go in terms of highlighting the severity of the sexual exploitation of children. A commonly used term is child pornography; however, we prefer the term child sexual abuse material (CSAM) because it both demonstrates the severity of the problem and ensures that child abuse is not equated with the legal pornography industry. Refer to our terminology guidelines for more information on phrasing. 

From the New York Times to New York Magazine, the media regularly use the term “sex with underage women” in reference to the Epstein case and many cases like his. These are not underage women, they are children, and for someone Epstein’s age, this is not sex. It is either rape or trafficking. On that same note, why is it that we call adult women “girls” when we are trying to silence them, but call young girls “women” when it is convenient to the patriarchal narrative surrounding sex? These are children. This is abuse. 

The media has a duty to bring light to injustices. By not emphasizing what happened to the child, but rather diminishing it to a neutral, problematic, or clinical phrase, they are silencing the victim’s story and diminishing the severity of the abuse. The media is expected to sensationalize and dramatize events and crimes, but when they have the opportunity to talk about a case that is already dramatic, dark, and horrifying without any exaggeration, they don’t. Call it like it is: rape, children, exploitation, international child sex trafficking ring, child sexual abuse material. This story does not end here. Do your job and tell it right. 


USDOT Bans Commercial Drivers Who Have Been Convicted Of Trafficking

Under new regulations from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers who have been convicted on human trafficking charges will no longer be able to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

The transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is frequently taken advantage of by traffickers to move victims around the country. These new regulations are an important step to keeping our roads safer for all children. 

“The commercial motor vehicle industry is uniquely positioned to help detect and report human trafficking, and thankfully professional drivers’ efforts often bring an end to these tragic situations. Sadly, however, some human trafficking activities are facilitated by the use of commercial trucks or buses,” said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez.

Last October, Michelle Guelbart, Director Private Sector Engagement at ECPAT-USA, was selected to serve on the Advisory Committee Against Human Trafficking of the U.S. Department of Transportation. As a member, she provided information, advice, and recommendations to the DOT on matters relating to human trafficking. 

“As a member of the United State Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee Against Human Trafficking, I applaud these new regulations to prevent trafficking in the commercial transportation industry,” Guelbart said. “This issue touches industries in all areas and only through working together can we create a world where children can grow up free from the fear of exploitation. 


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

Child Abuse As Government Policy - A Response To The 2019 TIP Report

Click through to see the full report

Click through to see the full report

There is a lot to be applauded in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report launched on June 20 by the U.S. State Dept., but all of it is overshadowed by the abomination of the treatment of children currently taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border.  What an absurd policy clash: the TIP report rolled out the same week that the horrors on the border are exposed.  

To start, let’s review the good things in the report about U.S. government efforts to protect children from exploitation within the U.S.:

• It recognizes that U.S. children in the foster care system are vulnerable to traffickers and mentions a pilot program to identify children missing from foster care. Policy makers are beginning to understand and mitigate the conditions that make children vulnerable to trafficking, for example, living in an unstable family situation.  

• Appropriations for services for victims of human trafficking and child welfare systems have increased, which shows that there is an increased awareness that children need health care, education, and housing. 

• It is commendable that the report mentions the special needs of LGBTQ individuals - though there is a long way to go to set up systems that universally serve these youth.  

• 34 states have “safe harbor” laws that keep children from being arrested for the crime of prostitution. This is good but, keeping in mind that the movement to protect children from arrest for prostitution began in 2007 when the first of such a state law was passed, there appears to be a slowing of momentum in this movement. At this point in time, every state should provide a minimal level of protection to children who are sex trafficking victims.  

• Other good things: 1) there is increased funding for local human trafficking task forces  2) Backpage.com - which was highly targeted by traffickers - was taken down 3) The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was reauthorized and strengthened again

However, alongside all these advancements, we cannot forget that on the border, children, including toddlers, are being held in detention without their parents - unfed, unwashed, overcrowded, and uncared for.  The emerging reports from these facilities describe conditions that would cause child welfare workers to call the police, remove the children and have the responsible parties arrested.  

This in-progress criminal behavior by U.S. government representatives lays the foundation for making these children vulnerable to trafficking in the future. Traffickers seek to recruit vulnerable, isolated children; children who do not have a safe and secure family setting to protect them; children who have been abused; poor children. The very TIP report itself demonstrates that U.S. government policymakers recognize this.  And yet it is also U.S. policies that are forcing children to live in inhumane conditions that will have long-term harmful impact on the healthy development and well-being of thousands of children and make them targets for traffickers. These two things exist side by side: good child protection policies moving forward as described in the TIP report and a hideous portrait of child abuse carried out by the same government. 

In response, ECPAT-USA has one more “Prioritized Recommendation” to add to the TIP Report: Don’t carry out mass detention of children under abusive conditions.   


Should Prostitution Be Decriminalized?

By Karen Wigle Weiss

Karen Wigle Weiss is an attorney with over 28 years experience as a prosecutor in the Greater New York City area. She has represented victims of human trafficking in their efforts to expunge prostitution-related convictions and has authored a report on Safe Harbor Laws, which are focused on treating victims of human trafficking as victims rather than criminals.


Many people, including legislators, have a knee-jerk positive response to the question of whether prostitution should be decriminalized because they wrongly believe that it is a “victimless crime.” But, as survivors of sex trafficking report, nothing could be further from the truth. My contact with survivors of sex trafficking, as well as the experiences of others who work in the field of anti-trafficking, overwhelmingly establishes that prostitution is neither sex, nor work and it far from harmless. Rather, it is a brutal form of slavery, often inflicted on children, and resulting in ruined lives.

The question of whether prostitution should be decriminalized must be approached from the perspective of how to best protect vulnerable children.  A nuanced analysis of the question requires consideration of the impact of decriminalization on vulnerable people, including children.

Arguments in favor of decriminalization of all prostitution-related activity are grounded on the false assumption that people engage in the activity voluntarily as an exercise of their own free will.  For the vast majority of prostituted people this assumption is groundless. Often the age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between 13 and 14 years of age. Children subjected to serial rape for extended periods of time are extremely traumatized and completely lack the support necessary to escape.  Thus, it is highly unrealistic to conclude that upon reaching their 18th birthday they are able to make a reasoned, independent decision to pursue prostitution as a profession.  They have suffered, often for years, under the control of manipulative, brutal pimps who have drained them of any sense of self worth and frequently induce them to become dependent on drugs or alcohol. True free choice is well beyond their reach.

Recently, several New York legislators have proposed an extraordinarily broad decriminalization of prostitution and all prostitution-related activities, including pimping, brothel running, and sex buying.  This misguided proposal clearly arises out of a failure to engage in the necessary analysis of all aspects of the problem. The legislators appear to have allowed themselves to be influenced without taking into account several important factors.

First, the group advocating for complete decriminalization has a financial interest in the profitable industry that would result from the suggested legislation.  Second, the people purportedly represented by adults who voluntarily engage in or wish to engage in prostitution as a profession, is an extremely small, unrepresentative cross-section of people subjected to prostitution.  Public policy should be based on an evaluation of the greater good for the largest portion of the population, not the greater good of a small handful of people.

In order to craft decriminalization legislation that reflects reality and supports justice for victims legislators should consult with non-profit organizations that have spent decades studying prostitution-related issues and are familiar with the experiences of children who have been subjected to prostitution.  Criminal legislation should reflect condemnation of what society considers unacceptable behavior to discourage people from engaging in that behavior. It should also reflect protection of innocent people, who are victimized by the bad actors. In short, laws should be designed to protect and promote the welfare of those who are sex trafficked, while holding accountable those who would harm them.

In the context of prostitution, these ideals can be implemented by decriminalizing the actions of prostituted people.  Specifically, repealing statutes that result in the arrest of prostituted people, such as prostitution and loitering for the purpose of prostitution.  And, at the same time enacting or enforcing laws that will result in the arrest and prosecution of people who sell and buy, or facilitate the sale and purchase, of other human beings.  This type of legislation has been labeled the Nordic or Equality Model.

Legalizing pimping, brothels and sex buying harms vulnerable people -- especially children.  Children are regularly targeted by sex traffickers and sold on internet sites. Sex traffickers prey upon children who have often been abused at home, are homeless or in foster care, both online and in the streets.  Legalizing pimping will only encourage pimps to target more and more vulnerable children. Moreover, normalizing the prostitution industry by legalizing pimping, brothels and sex buying risks creating a false perception that it is a victimless activity and leading naïve, immature teens into believing that it is a good way to make money.  Thus, more young people will find themselves caught up in a destructive activity that has a devastating impact on their brain development and their futures.

It is the responsibility of legislators to draft laws that give high priority to the safety and welfare of children.  The broad decriminalization legislation now proposed by a few New York legislators fails to do so. They would do well to re-direct their efforts to improving the social safety nets for survivors of sex trafficking and vulnerable youth, such as shelters, education and prevention services to help youth learn how to avoid falling victim to pimps.

Is Grooming Teenagers for Prostitution “On-brand” for Teen Vogue?

At ECPAT-USA we teach youth through our in-school programming about how to avoid being groomed by traffickers who are always seeking new individuals to feed into the sex trade. Traffickers and pimps tell enticing stories to young people - many of whom are vulnerable because of their life histories of abuse and neglect. These stories involve the love and care the trafficker says he will bestow, and the great riches and success in store for young people if they just follow his lead. It is, of course, all lies and all manipulation that takes advantage of the youth and naïveté of young people who aren’t able to recognize a “recruitment conversation” when they hear one.  And now we have Teen Vogue helping the pimps.

The child exploitation grooming process is pretty well documented by now, and increasingly, the systems that need to know how to protect children from sexual exploitation are all on board.  Social workers, foster parents, criminal justice agents, health care workers and others have learned how traffickers use exploitative processes to lure their victims and passing on that information to those who are the most vulnerable to such tactics.

Not the editors of Teen Vogue. In a recent op-ed, space was given in their magazine to help out the pimps and traffickers by amplifying the message that these exploiters use to recruit teenagers.  The piece included language such as “purchasing intimacy and paying for the services can be affirming for many people,” which will only help lay the groundwork for pimps and traffickers trolling the internet, shopping malls or the streets to find homeless, sexually abused, LGBTQ or foster care youth.

As many survivors have attested, they were not empowered and they were not strengthened by being in the sex trade. Many were recruited well before they were 18 years old and their bodies were controlled by pimps and buyers. They suffered physical and mental abuse that affects them for years afterward.    

The retrograde and irresponsible message in the piece - from a magazine aimed at a teen audience - is that selling your body as a commodity to the highest bidder is something to be glorified and supported.  This message has already been communicated by the fashion industry - so maybe it is completely on-brand for Teen Vogue.