A charity dedicated to prevention and rescue of women and children from sexual exploitation for money has released new video about child sex trafficking in the United States.

The video, “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: How to Identify America’s Trafficked Youth” is part of a worldwide effort against commercial sexual exploitation by Shared Hope International, a charitable organization started and led by former U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith.

Based on extensive undercover work, the 26-minute video features on-camera interviews with pimps, sex trafficking survivors, members of law enforcement and social service providers to provides an in-depth look at the buying and selling of America’s children.

In 2006 Shared Hope International partnered with ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes)–the U.S. affiliate of an international NGO based in Thailand–and Johns Hopkins University to host the U.S. Mid-Term Review on the Commercial Exploitation of Children in America.

Key issues discussed during the two-day conference included misidentification of victims–terming them child prostitutes or delinquents instead of victims of sexual exploitation–lack of shelter options and access to services for victims and a need for training resources to increase education and understanding of victims’ plight and profile.

Federal law defines minor sex trafficking as occurring when a U.S. citizen under 18 is engaged in a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, exotic dancing or pornography.

While sex trafficking is often viewed from the perspective of children and women overseas being sold into sex slavery, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says 450,000 children run away from home every year. One out of three is lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. That projects to at least 150,000 children lured into prostitution in the U.S. every year.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the average age of entry into pornography and prostitution is 12.

Particularly vulnerable are youth with histories of abuse. High percentages of minors arrested for prostitution are past victims of sexual assault or molestation by a family member, and most run away from home prior to arrest.

The film says children on the street are actively recruited by pimps, masters at the art of seduction able to identify and exploit vulnerabilities of a specific child. Once seduced, pimps use physical and psychological torture tactics to demand total obedience and maintain control.

Shared Hope International says buyers are equally responsible for the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking, even despite lack of intent or if they don’t know the child’s are or victim status. Yet nearly 90 percent of prostitution arrests are females. Fewer than 10 percent of arrests are male purchasers of commercial sex and less than 1 percent are pimps.

“To a trafficker, a child is low-risk, high-profit and easy to move about,” Smith said.

Elected as a Washington State Legislator in 1983, Smith won a write-in campaign as a Republican for Congress in 1994. She founded Shared Hope International in 1998 and since retiring from politics has devoted energies to fighting sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation worldwide and serve long-term restoration needs of women and children in crisis. She lives in Vancouver, Wash., with her husband and attends church at the Assembly of God.

Shared Hope International builds partnerships with local groups to provide homes and shelters where women and children can live with no time limit. Called “Homes of Hope,” they take a holistic approach to recovery, including education and training in job skills and finance.

In 2001 SHI established the War Against Trafficking Alliance to coordinate regional and international efforts against sex trafficking.

The group also lobbied for the 2005 Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed by President Bush in January 2006.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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