What is CSE?
Awareness of the prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), otherwise known as sex trafficking, is growing across the United States. Sex rafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting of a person for the purpose of commercial sex.” And it can happen with children and adults.
Children in particular are considered victims if they are persuaded to engage in acts by adults. Some victims have been enticed into trading sex for money or what is called “survival” sex. This is when a minor exchanges sexual acts and in return, receives things they need to survive, like food, a place to sleep, or clothes and personal items.
Vulnerable children at risk.
Children in the foster care system are a group particularly at high risk for becoming victims. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, in 2019, “16% of the endangered runaways reported as missing from a from a foster care or group home placement were identified as likely child sex trafficking victims”.
A 2013 report put out by the HHS Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) contended that anywhere from 50% to 90% of CSE victims had been involved with the child welfare system at some point.
Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) is not a comfortable topic to talk about. But it’s necessary that we shine a light on the problem so we can better advocate for and protect our youth at Crossnore.
Prior to being at Crossnore, I spent over a decade as an advocate for sexual assault victim. And then as a forensic social worker responding to the sexual and physical abuse of children in the child welfare system. As part of my time in those roles, I completed hundreds of forensic interviews with kids regarding abuse and trauma. We would assess for what happened and, using our gut instinct, do our best to respond with the protective factors we could.
A much needed tool.
What we didn’t have at that time was a tool that we could rely on to let us know the level of risk of CSE these kids were facing. Having that tool could have helped us closely focus on what was causing the risk, what we needed to do to lower it, and how we could hopefully intervene before it was too late.
At Crossnore, we now have that tool. We have been using what’s called the Commercial Sexual Exploitation – Identification Tool (CSE-IT). It’s scientifically validated and not difficult to use. In our first year of data collection, we have screened over 300 youth. We found that approximately 50% of our youth are at moderate to high risk of trafficking.
Making a difference sooner.
The risk level does not mean trafficking has happened yet. But it means that if something does not change in their circumstances, there is a possibility they could end up a part of the statistic mentioned above. We now have more than just a gut feeling that our kids are at risk. And we can use that information to make more thoughtful intervention plans.
I think back to some of the youth I worked with as a forensic social worker. For some of them, my gut was telling me they were at risk of running away. And sometimes they did. My gut told me they were at risk of getting further abused, coorced, or exploited. And sometimes they were. If we had had the CSE-IT, I could have known whether my gut was right. And maybe, just maybe, I could have intervened differently and impacted the course of their trajectory sooner.
A partnership for hope.
Now that we have the tool to support our intuition for our kids, we can more confidently intervene for those youth at high risk. As part of our response to the data we have gathered at Crossnore, we believe it is imperative to implement Project Safe Home in our partnership with Youth Villages.
The world is a scary place and it’s not getting easier for the youth of tomorrow. But in our vision for this project, we have asked, “What if? What if we can see the risk early and intervene at just the right time with just the right response? What if we can help even that one youth at risk find their own pathway to resilience?”
To learn more:
To learn more about Project Safe Home, please click HERE to visit our website.