Violence against girls in our country is a painful reality. The numbers are staggering: 1 in 4 American girls will experience some form of sexual violence by the age of 18, and 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12. But rates of violence and exploitation are even more pronounced for young women and girls of color. For example, Black girls and women 12 years and older have experienced higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian, and Latina girls. Native women and girls are over 2.5 times as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than the general population. Gendered violence causes physical, emotional, and psychological trauma to girls and young women, and inhibits the realization of their full potential. Alarmingly, one of the more pervasive forms of violence facing girls and young women of color today is domestic sex trafficking.
Today, throughout urban, rural, and tribal regions of the nation, young girls are being bought and sold. Many of these girls and gender expansive youth of color are runaways from troubled homes or foster care placements where they have been abused or discarded by their families. Some are lured by traffickers and exploited for profit, while others are used by sex buyers who prey on their vulnerability. Instead of being seen and treated as crime victims in need of services, exploited girls are often treated as perpetrators and routinely criminalized.
The vast majority of women and youth in the sex trade are women and girls of color, including LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth of color. By contrast, the majority of sex buyers are white middle-to-upper class men (for more, see our Racial Disparities Fact Sheet). Too often, survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are criminalized while their buyers face little to no consequences for their role in exploiting vulnerable women and girls. In fact, even men who pay to rape children are rarely charged for solicitation, let alone statutory rape or child sex trafficking. In many situations, it is the sexually exploited child who is criminalized for “prostitution,” despite not even being old enough to consent. In fact, each year hundreds of American children are arrested for prostitution, leaving them vulnerable to re-traumatization in the juvenile justice system and subject to arrest and juvenile records that hinder their ability to access future jobs, housing, or education opportunities.
Rights4Girls works to change the policies that allow trafficked and exploited girls to be criminalized and advocates for approaches that provide girls and young women with safety, healing, and support. Through our national No Such Thing as a ‘Child Prostitute’ campaign and our survivor advocacy trainings we work to advance laws and policies that decriminalize survivors while promoting increased funding for services and housing.