kevin-ryanAs President of Covenant House, I know all too well the dark realities of the human trafficking industry, one that is rapidly rising to the second largest global criminal industry, just barely behind black market arms dealing and drug dealing.

But there is a grave misconception in this country that human trafficking is a trend relegated to foreign soil. It makes us comfortable believing it stays abroad, but the painful truth is that human trafficking is a monstrous issue in this country. 100,000 – 300,000 children are estimated to be in the sex trafficking trade in the United State each year. Covenant House receives many of these youth after they’ve found the courage to escape capture, have been freed by police raids, or who make contact with Covenant House outreach staff who comb the streets day and night looking for youth in need and at risk.

The sex industry has rapidly expanded over the past several decades and requires a dramatically amplified effort.

If we are going to save those thousands of kids and teenagers, three things are essential. First, the FBI must receive the resources and direction to magnify its extraordinary work of breaking up trafficking rings in proportion to the scope of the problem. In a world of competing criminal justice exigencies that include the global war on terror and investigating fraud in the collapse of venerable financial institutions, ferreting out the systematic sexual abuse of trafficked children must become a leading national priority.

Second, state and federal law enforcement agencies must target not just the large trafficking rings, but also the pimps who will often sell up to five young girls at a time. The FBI’s efforts to coordinate arrests of both buyers and sellers of children’s bodies is an important new step and should be met with encouragement and rigorous prosecution. The nation must deliver a loud and unambiguous message to those who believe they can engage in sex with children with impunity: never again.

And third, we have to acknowledge that we cannot simply arrest our way out of this problem: we have to wake up to the growing number of homeless and abandoned kids on our streets. Alone and isolated, many times disconnected from family and friends, these kids are desperate for alternatives to the streets. On their behalf, I offer an urgent call to service: We simply must reignite, state by state, street outreach efforts by schools, civic groups, police, human services agencies and child advocates to bring our kids into safety before they are solicited or kidnapped by the pimps and gangs who steal their childhoods for profit, then throw them away.

Thank you for joining this movement with us – together we will Abolish Child Trafficking!

More information on child trafficking (PDF downloads):

The face of child trafficking is often not what you think.