Media across the nation broadcast the news of 105 children rescued over the weekend from sex trafficking in FBI raids.
The story came with this gut-wrenching detail: Up to 60 percent of sexually exploited children are recruited by pimps out of social services and foster homes — some coaxed into running away, others found on the streets.
Because they are nobody’s children, they easily become anyone’s children. For a price, they’re offered up for some pervert’s sexual gratification, often online.
None of this is news to Gary Stangler. He literally wrote the book on it. “On Their Own: What Happens To Kids When They Age Out Of The Foster Care System” was published in 2004, co-written by Martha Shirk.
Stangler led the Missouri Department of Social Services for 11 years. Since 2001, he has carried the same urgent messaging as executive director of the St. Louis-basedJim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative
National leaders are now reiterating that message.
“I consider these kids in foster care some of the most at-risk in our nation,” said Bob Lowery, executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which worked with the FBI on the raids in 76 cities.
Many of the children, almost all of them girls, will re-enter foster care.
It’s part of the constant shuffling that lays the groundwork for their exploitation. For some, their self-worth becomes so battered that they see themselves as commodities, children others are paid to warehouse. “Trauma bonding” with their abusers will cause some to run away again, Lowery said.
One study backed by Stangler’s organization found that children in foster care suffered post-traumatic stress disorder at rates nearly double that of U.S. war veterans. Yet Stangler has long focused on the young people’s resilience. He stresses the brain development between the ages of 14 to 25, advocating for the supports other young adults enjoy in the form of internships, jobs and community ties.
Missouri is among the states that listened last year, passing legislation that allows children 18 to 21 to re-enter foster care. About 20 other states have similar laws with special programming for older teens.
Here’s another reason the plight of exploited children often goes unnoticed.
Citing FBI data, Lowery said children who are trafficked into the sex trade are usually dead within seven years.