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March 13, 2007

Changes in the Global System Negatively Affect Sexual Exploitation of Girls in NYC

Living Room Dialogue with Carol Smolenski

Last November, Sharon Tiongco, a visitor from the Philippines, talked to us about human trafficking of young women in her country for sex and domestic labor. At the closing of her talk, she urged us not to think of this problem as something that is happening "over there," but to find out what is going on in New York and possibly take some action.

Following up on that, the Network invited Carol Smolenski of ECPAT-USA to talk to us about the trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation. At the end of these notes, you will find her suggestions for taking action.

ECPAT, which stands for End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, was created in 1991 by people horrified at the way children were being exploited sexually in places like Bangkok. ECPAT-USA was formed in 1996 and has expanded its mission to ending sexual exploitation of children in the U.S.

Some things we learned from Carol: According to a CIA report issued in 2000, New York is a main port of entry and a transit area for traffickers either depositing victims in the metropolitan area or circulating them to other cities across the country. Sometimes the victims enter legally, sometimes only after being drugged, kidnapped, or physically restrained in some way. Sometimes they don't know they are being trafficked until they get here, having been told they would be given employment here.

Some 600-800,000 people every year are trafficked across the globe, 80% women and 50% under 18, 14,000-18,000 ending up in the U.S. Often they are afraid to seek help. Traffickers tell them the U.S. authorities are in on the deal and will be no help or they threaten to harm victims' families at home.

The global sex market has been facilitated by globalization, which outside of China and India has increased poverty world-wide. Around 40% of people in the world are living in poverty and ripe for this sort of exploitation.

The growth of the internet has been also a factor in the exploding sex industry. Child pornography available on-line increasingly uses younger and younger children, many under six, and even three-year-olds. People are being sold on eBay (escort section). Child sex tours used to be freely promoted but now are underground because of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in the U.S. in 2000.

In 1996, 120 countries came to a World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children which was co-sponsored by ECPAT, UNICEF and the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Although the airlines and hotels are not directly involved in the sex industry, their infrastructure is employed by travelers in pursuit of sex with children. A Code of Conduct was developed which has now been signed by 300 companies. For more information on this code, go to or

Some suggestions for action:

  • Write letters to airlines and hotel chains urging them to sign on to the Code of Conduct. A sample letter along with the names and addresses of airline and hotel executives follows these notes along with a list of organizations which already have signed the code.
  • Talk to men about prostitution. Twenty-five percent of the men engaging in sex tourism come from the U.S. Most others come from Germany, Australia, Sweden and Japan. Often they think they are doing children a favor because they are poor and can use the money. Or they think that the use of children in OK in the countries they are visiting. Tip: Commercial exploitation is illegal in all countries.
  • Write letters to legislators. Young people forced into prostitution are frequently treated as criminals rather than victims in need of help. The NYPD arrests 12-year-olds as prostitutes but leaves pimps and johns alone.
  • Publicize guidelines for identifying trafficking victims. Sometimes not even police are able to do this. ECPAT can help with this.

Some of the thoughts that came up in the discussion after Carol's presentation:

  • Sex is treated as a commodity in this country in all kinds of ways. People's sexual yearnings are used to sell almost everything. This creates an atmosphere where sex tourism can be seen as acceptable. Also children are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. One person mentioned seeing "pimp and ho" costumes for eight-year-olds. The American Psychological Assn. has published a 2007 report of the Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls discussing this.
  • Hundreds of youngsters in New York are resorting to prostitution for survival or are exploited by pimps. One participant reported that children in foster care in the city are frequently used as domestic slaves or are sexually exploited. She plans to push the city's Agency for Children's Services to prevent this.
  • A devil's advocate in the room asked whether cultural attitudes in other countries toward prostitution and sex with children should be respected. There was some heated discussion about whether it would make sense to accept prostitution as inevitable, legalize and regulate it. This would de-criminalize it on the one hand, but on the other hand, regulation would not likely protect the most vulnerable.

Here is a sample letter that can be sent to a list of airline and hotel executives, along with the names of companies that have signed the Code of Conduct.


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