Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Domestic Trafficking Part I: Is Nicky a Criminal or a Victim?

Nicky, a 17 year-old girl, ran away from her mother’s apartment. She had had enough.

Frank, her mom’s boyfriend, would not stop touching her. Nicky tried to tell her mom but she never believed her. Most of time, Nicky's mom wasn't sober enough to listen to Nicky’s stories anyway- she was either high on drugs or not home. Hence, the only solution to get out of this problematic reality in Nicky’s mind was to leave.

She ran further and further away from her mother’s apartment so Frank would never be able to touch her again. Nicky had no idea where she was going, all she knew was that anywhere would be better than her mother’s apartment with Frank.

Three days later, she met a guy named Leo.

He was a kind, loving man who offered her everything she needed and wanted— from food and a shelter to attention and love. His attention and gentle spirit made her feel like a princess whose prince had arrived. Leo told Nicky that their lives would be much better together in Florida if she came with him. Leo also said that they would make a fortune as long as she was willing to do whatever he asked her to do. Nicky wanted a life of happiness. More than anything, Nicky did not want to lose Leo’s affection.

She wanted to please Leo so that he would continue to love her.

Nicky and Leo arrived in Florida. A few days later, Leo asked her if she could walk into the motel across from a place they were staying to meet his client. Leo also told her that she should do everything the man would ask her to do.Nicky was scared, but she did not want to disappoint Leo out of fear that he might withhold his love and attention from her. Nicky put on the red dress that he bought for her at the shopping mall earlier that week and walked into the motel room right across from the street. Her heart was pounding, and her hands felt sweaty. When she knocked on the motel room door 202, a man in his mid 40s wearing a white bathrobe greeted her.

Is Nicky a criminal or a victim?

According to the research of Catholic Charities USA., Nicky would most likely be prosecuted and identified as a child prostitute. The same research points out a law enforcement official's lack of understanding about child sex trafficking in the U.S. as a primary reason behind the prosecution. The research also stated that such "inappropriate label [on the child] is resulting in the arrest of the victims." In addition, even if a law enforcement official and the judge see someone like Nicky as a victim, many states often have "the dearth of appropriate shelter options for child sex trafficking victims."[i] Therefore, someone like Nicky would be more than likely to be placed in a juvenile detention facility than a shelter.

Is Nicky a criminal or a victim?

What do you think?


  1. Anonymous6:52 PM

    It seems as though this lack of knowledge on behalf of government officials leads to the misappropriation of these victims throughout the entire United States. This has been echoing through the mouths of activists trying to bridge the gap between the reality of the situations and the law enforcement who are not properly trained to idenify such cases.

    My opinion on this particular question would be that I believe she is a victim of course and not a criminal by any means, although she may later be coerced into carrying out illegal acts, this too must be understood on a wider scale, understanding what happens once a child is held victim to the oppresor who inevitably exploits the child to their benefit and profit through means of violent or fearful tactics.

    There are statistics that prove once a child in American runs away from home (usually due to problems at home as described in this story) they have 48 hours before they are picked up or recruited by a pimp or person trying to exploit them for personal gain.

    The fact that these girls end up in dentention centers as opposed to shelters that help with the safe re-integration into society create a barrier in the fight against human trafficking, time is of the essence and we must act now to ensure a safe haven for children who are responding to the settings they were born into, it is our job as a society not to waste time in making this a national effort to combat any crime to a person's human rights. That means a nation wide training session for all personell who deal directly or indirectly with such victims, once we have a universal understanding of how the chain is linked together we can start disassembling it. There is no reason law enforcement should not know this topic more than the activists uncovering it.