“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Before we begin, I just want to say, this is a hard topic to talk about. I never thought I’d ever feel the need to write about it, because well, I never knew it existed. But only with knowledge and awareness can we create change. So please keep reading because all these children out there getting abused and exploited need a voice. They need you. That’s the simplest way to help. Know.
Most children have a safe and joyous childhood, free from fear and danger. But the vulnerable? They are a target and subject to sexual abuse or exploitation. The impact of this type of abuse is unparalleled and profound.
Child exploitation is a global problem. It occurs when an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity. It is accomplished by force or by a threat of force. It includes sex trafficking, child pornography, and child prostitution. Exploited children are affected greatly and carry their agonizing struggle for many years. Some problems include sexual dysfunction, severe injuries, depression, Impair brain and nervous system development, unintended pregnancies, suicide attempts, and self-mutilation.
Child sexual exploitation has soared in recent years as reflected by the ever-increasing production and distribution of child sexual abuse materials. It has escalated throughout the 20th and 21st century. Approximately 300,000 children are abused every year in the United States and about 2 million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. Up to 300,000 Americans under 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year. Twenty percent of adult females recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.
Adolescents are often a subject to traffickers as they are supposedly more accessible to manipulate than adults. Child exploitation is a hidden crime. Children often trust their abuser or they may not even understand they are being abused. Most of the time they are too scared to tell anyone what’s happening. Also sometimes, they can be as young as newborns (unable to communicate at all).
The type of individuals most affected is usually children from infancy to adolescence. These children often live in poverty, lack parental guidance, or have parents who are involved in drug addiction. Children also have little information about sex, making them an even easier subject to exploitation. Also, Children’s cognitive skills are barely developing. They have limited life experience upon which to base judgments. Thus, children can be easily misled or tricked. Toddlers through age 7’s thinking are based on intuition and still not completely logical. They cannot yet grasp complex concepts such as cause and effect.
The most effective way to help prevent child exploitation and abuse is to create awareness of child rights in society. While it is important to build children’s awareness of the risks and their resilience to them, we cannot rely solely on children to protect themselves from online sexual exploitation. Small steps can be taken in our everyday life which could change the life of a child somewhere and that change could go on to touch the lives of many more. There should be support offered to parents or caregivers (for example, providing parent training to young, first-time parents). The most important thing is to help encourage more and more people to become sensitive and aware of the issue.
There are many more steps that professionals in different fields could execute; Implementation and enforcement of laws (Giving greater importance to the crime and having stronger and more torturous punishments). There should also be more awareness and look out for neighborhoods’ “hot spots” for violence and then addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions to ensure a safe environment. Income and economic strengthening should also be addressed. Response and service provision should be more accessible to children, and special services should be created for children, an easy way for them to contact representatives. We should develop and implement victim-friendly complaint mechanisms to report cases of exploitation; Also Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and social skills training).
Another simple way to help is to donate. Child Rescue Coalition is a nonprofit organization that rescues children from sexual abuse by building technology for law enforcement to track and arrest and prosecute child predators. By donating, you can help rescue children from exploitation and abuse.
Visit their website and learn more about the organization: https://childrescuecoalition.org/
Donate here: https://childrescuecoalition.org/donate/
Together, we can combine the spiritual maturity, influence, expertise, and authority you carry as leaders in your community, with the technical experience gained from policymakers, law enforcement, and child-focused experts to ensure this violence stops. I hope this inspires you to work with other faith leaders and religious communities in your area. Together we can end online child sexual exploitation.
Featured image credit: Mike McQuade (2016)