By: Ron Ratney
For the last several years, ECPAT-USA has been collecting news articles, press releases and, particularly, court documents that identify hotels that have been used as venues for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. By now, about 350 hotel properties have been found. This is by no means a complete enumeration of the hotels that have been used for child sex trafficking. Many of the source documents note that the pimps used one or more hotels but do not identify their names or locations. In some cases, the type of venue is not reported at all. Notable by their absence from the collection are hotels that were used by escort services or outcall dates in which the victim goes to the buyer’s location. Sixty of the hotels were unbranded and not members of any hotel chain. The rest were members of the common hotel chains with all the major chains being represented in the list.
The vast majority of the documents in ECPAT-USA’s collection were written by offices of the US Attorneys in connection with the prosecution of pimps who had been accused of child sex trafficking. The most useful documents were indictments and criminal complaints. Although the documents were initially collected as part of a project to identify specific hotels that were used for child sex trafficking, they also proved to be unique windows into the sadistic violence that pimps inflict on their victims using graphic descriptions that sometimes might not be acceptable in print and on-line media. In order to enforce their will on their victims, pimps tattooed, branded and carved their initials into their victims flesh. Rape, gang rape and violent beatings resulting in broken bones and lost teeth were used commonly. One pimp would attack his victim without provocation and without reason and in at least one case, a pimp caused his victim to abort the fetus that she was carrying. All of this, of course, is in addition to forcing their victims to sell their bodies ten to twenty times a day.
Although the documents in ECPAT-USA’s collection contain a lot of useful information, what is NOT in the collection may be at least as telling. As documents were being reviewed, it became clear that some offices of the US Attorney apparently had not been prosecuting pimps for child sex trafficking. The federal statute covering child sex trafficking is 18 USC 1591 (a). Using the PACER database maintained by the US court system, a search was conducted for all prosecutions of this statute that had been initiated from January 1, 2010 through April 2012. A total of 179 cases were found that had been prosecuted by 43 offices of the US Attorney. There are 94 offices of the US Attorney; 43 of those offices had not initiated any prosecutions of pimps under 18 USC 1591 (a); no data could be found for eight offices. (A list of offices of the US Attorney with the numbers of child sex trafficking cases shown here.) Apart from the offices with no prosecutions, several large districts had remarkably few cases: New York Southern (Manhattan) 3; California North (San Francisco) 1; Pennsylvania Eastern (Philadelphia) 1. Considering that it is estimated that there are about 100,000 children enslaved as prostitutes in the United States, the questions come to mind: “where are the prosecutions?”, “where are the victims?” Of course, it should be pointed out that local and state law enforcement agencies initiate their own prosecutions of pimps and there is no centralized database that would make it possible to count their cases. For instance, Operation Cross Country, a coordinated sweep by local, state and federal agencies that is conducted a few times a year, leads to the arrest of a large number of pimps and the rescue of a smaller number of child victims. Although, the sweeps are coordinated by the US Department of Justice, the resulting prosecutions are usually conducted at the state and local level. It is also important to recognize that the investigations and prosecutions of child sex traffickers are extremely difficult with extensive, detailed cooperation between law enforcement agencies at all levels needed to achieve convictions. Some cases have taken as much as five years from arrest through conviction. Each successful prosecution should be considered to be a triumph in which some of the most evil members of society are removed from circulation. On the other hand it would be a mistake to boast that these successes are making a significant dent in the incidence of child sex trafficking.
The fact that half the offices of the US Attorney are not prosecuting pimps who are exploiting children deserves detailed scrutiny. Available data suggests that child sex trafficking occurs all across the United States. There are more cases in large metropolitan areas but it appears that the incidence (the number of cases per 100,000 population) is similar in cities of all sizes.
Even an informal review of the documents in ECPAT-USA’s collection reveals some other things that are not there.
- Boys: None of the victims in any of the federal cases are boys. It is well known that there are teen-age boys working as prostitutes all across the country although there aren’t even any educated guesses as to their numbers. A study conducted several years ago by John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Court Innovation estimated that a little less than half the children exploited on the streets of New York City were boys. They tend not to work with pimps and they are frequently not apprehended by the police so that they will not be included in the usual criminal justice statistics summaries.
- Outcomes for rescued victims: Documents, particularly news articles, frequently report that victims are returned to their parents or placed in rehabilitation programs, many of which are operated by non-governmental organizations. Very few such organization report publicly on the length of time their clients are in their care, what their programs include, and more importantly what happens to their clients after they have been discharged or leave of their own accord. Victims are usually recruited into the “life” while they are in middle school or high school. When they are finally rescued, they have lost the most important years of their lives. A few weeks of psychological counseling will not prepare them to be reintegrated into society. There are numerous reports that rescued victims return to prostitution, become homeless or institutionalized but there have been few stringently run studies (not advocacy studies) that track victims’ lives after slavery. There are probably better studies on the life outcomes of whales, polar bears, lions and other wild animals than of people who are among the most vulnerable in our society.
About the Author: Ron Ratney is retired and works as a volunteer conducting research in support of ECPAT-USA’s efforts. It turns out that none of his professional career had anything to do with child welfare. He ran across ECPAT-USA through a web site that connects prospective volunteers with NGOs that need help. He started his professional career after he obtained his doctorate in chemistry, first working as a research chemist and then teaching chemistry at the college level. After teaching for 11 years he switched careers and became an industrial hygienist (protecting workers from toxic substances by measuring and controlling exposures, primarily airborne, in the workplace.) He worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and was a member of a professional committee that provides recommendations for safe airborne exposures. He lives in Boston with a pet greyhound that was rescued from the race track. His wife died in 2000; he has three children who live in Las Vegas, Connecticut and Jerusalem.