There have been many forms of commercial child sexual exploitation in the US, but it is only in the last dozen years that it became an official federal crime. Under the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000), children were identified as victims of sex trafficking if they were sold for sex or coerced into sex acts. Even though this law mainly applied to foreigners brought to the US, later revisions explicitly included American children. Federal penalties for traffickers and customers could be up to 25 years in prison, and provision is made for the minor who was forced into prostitution to be viewed as a victim and not the criminal.
Barbara Amaya was trafficked in the ’70s, first by a Washington, DC couple, and then by a man in New York City. Unfortunately for her, children caught in prostitution were considered as criminal adults who had chosen that lifestyle. She went to jail several times, and actually incriminated herself by lying about her age to appear older. Her story shows that the methods of child sex traffickers and the effects on the victims have not changed in 40 years. This scenario happens daily with a hundred thousand kids across this country.
Barbara was sexually and physically abused in her home as a young child during the ’60s. Recent studies indicate that 70-90 percent of currently trafficked minors report a pattern of abuse from family members, neighbors or respected community people within their circles.
The abuse was not believed nor properly addressed by Barbara’s mother. Greater trauma occurs to children who try to report the abuse and are either penalized for telling or ignored. The child is left vulnerable and the predatory routines continue unchecked. Only 50% of such cases are ever reported to the police or Child Protective Services.
The mental anguish of the lifestyle caused Barbara to run away, and that led first to placement in detention and a reform school. Running from these places led to getting connected with traffickers. Nearly all prostituted children have run away from home and/or from foster placements. One-in-three of these children will be picked up by predators within 48 hours of being on the streets.
Barbara’s male pimp pretended to be her boyfriend, using violence and manipulation to get her to comply. Many of the modern pimps are well versed in control tactics and are called “Romeo or finesse pimps” (the boyfriends) or “gorilla pimps” (those who use brute force without pretending any affinity for the relationship).
Heroin was Barbara’s escape from dealing with the horrors of her life. Although the captors may indulge in street drugs and may use them to bring the girls into compliance, they try to keep the victims from getting hooked. However, substance abuse as a way of coping with the personal devastation is a compounding factor with today’s exploited youth
Both the pimp and the johns treated Barbara with violence. Victims of sex trafficking are considered dispensable, and the crime of prostituting people attracts a number of other criminal mindsets. It is not uncommon for survivors to report beatings, rapes, torture and assault with guns or knives.
Barbara has dealt with compounded physical, emotional and psychological effects of her sexual exploitation for more than 40 years. Sexual assault trauma is intricately layered into the whole of a person. Overcoming it is incredibly painful and can take years and years of work.
The methods of pimps, sexual predators and traffickers show little variation across the decades, and the damage to the victims remains in a constant range of severity. However, the frequency of child sex trafficking activities is increasing, in part, with the ease of buying and selling sex with children on the Internet.
The Internet was not in the picture when Barbara was being exploited, and for that she is glad. She reflects that AIDS was not yet a concern in the late 70s, but came to the forefront a couple of years later. Crack cocaine and crystal meth were also not components of the prostitution scene at the time, and Barbara knows she would have used them if they had been available. These days, teens think nothing of attending Pimp and Ho parties, which glamorize the trafficking culture. They don’t realize that they are being desensitized to a horrific lifestyle that involves every possible degradation of people imaginable.
Barbara does see change coming in the way a lot of people view trafficking of children. Laws are being changed and enforced, healing resources are more available to victims, and survivors such as she are standing in the gap to inform, protect and nurture the next generation.
Read the rest of Barbara’s story:
Childhood sexual abuse made Barbara vulnerable to sex trafficking ploys
The aftermath of sex trafficking: Dealing with the pain and shame
A sex trafficking survivor walks in victory, helping other victims
Barbara can be contacted through her website: barbaraamaya.com