ARLINGTON - University of Texas at Arlington Sociology Lecturer Brittany Smith has completed a study of the commercial sexual exploitation of Tarrant County children. Smith evaluated progress in implementing the recommendations made in an extensive national study published by nonprofit Shared Hope International in September 2008.
One of Smith's significant findings was that in May 2009 seven juvenile victims of commercial sex trafficking had been identified in Fort Worth. By September, that figure had risen to 17.
"That increase means that law enforcement is doing a better job of identifying these young victims and helping them get the services they need," Smith said. "So the increased number is actually good news."
The Shared Hope study focused on 11 major metropolitan areas, including Fort Worth. Tarrant County Juvenile Services had identified 25 youths as victims of sex trafficking since 2000. The children had been brought into the juvenile justice system for prostitution, although they were almost always controlled by a trafficker or pimp.
Of the juvenile commercial sex trafficking victims identified by the Fort Worth Police Department since September 2006, the study showed the average age of entry into prostitution in Tarrant County is 14.2 years old; the average age of rescue was 15.3 years old.
Extensive gang involvement was found in the commercial sexual exploitation of minors in the Fort Worth area. Girls are required to go through a two-week "boot camp" training process where they are taught how to perform sex acts. The girls were effectively brainwashed and taught what to say to law enforcement if they are apprehended.
The study found that in Tarrant County, as in the rest of the country, homeless youth are extremely vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.
"In the United States, 70 percent of youth on the street are victims of commercial sexual exploitation," Smith said. "This is very significant because in 2005 the Homeless Youth Task Force issued a report on homeless youth in Arlington indicating that there may be up to 2,000 homeless children in any given year."
The original study reported that the Fort Worth Police Department Anti-Trafficking Unit was diligently training law enforcement, as well as key youth service professionals, on how to identify and respond to human trafficking. But the study also found widespread unawareness of federal and state laws intended to protect human trafficking victims.
Smith's analysis found great progress on that front. In the past year, 4,000 individuals from law enforcement and social services have gone through eight-hour training sessions on the laws and their applications.
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