By Josh Brokaw
You might have seen the billboards that state the issue clearly: “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is happening in Tompkins County.”
The commercial sexual exploitation of children [abbreviated as CSEC] happens when someone under 18 years old has sex for the “exchange or the promise of exchange of something of value.” That’s how Naomi Barry, of the Advocacy Center, defined CSEC for a roomful of service providers at the October 4 Housing & Homeless Task Force meeting.
Items of value could include shelter, food, drugs, money, a ride somewhere, protection, or “some emotional support,” Barry said. “We’re talking about traffickers really taking the insecurities of youth and exploiting them.”
The exploiter could be a peer, a family member, a friend, a romantic partner, or a pimp.
Christine Barksdale, an investigator with the Ithaca Police Department, said the most common types of exploitation she sees comes from peers and older boyfriends of adolescent girls.
“We had a young woman staying in a group home and she was recruiting other young women,” Barksdale said. “We figured it out because young people like their phones and like to take selfies.”
The runaway youths had posted selfie photographs of themselves in “scanty clothes in the bathroom,” Barksdale said, shortly before they ran away.
A more common case is the young person who is a frequent runaway and needs somewhere to stay.
Barksdale said 10 runaway youth were reported last year in the city of Ithaca, with over 60 across Tompkins County. Those numbers don’t capture the full scope of the issue. There are those parents who don’t want to get the authorities involved, Barksdale said, and a child that goes missing for two or three hours can still become involved in exploitative situations.
“A pimp,” Barksdale said, “can essentially be anyone … a lot of time we think of the huggy bear dude from the ’70s. Think about how we use pimp – it means kind of flashy. What about the person who’s kind of quiet, who is selling off people.”
“We had a college student, a guy, essentially pimping out his girlfriend,” Barksdale continued. “They’re college students – they’re Cornell college students. She didn’t see it as that as much. She didn’t like it, it didn’t feel good to her … It was hard to get her to know if he’s telling you should have sex with his friends you’re being pimped out.”
In another case, Barksdale said she had a girl who said “she thought a guy gave money to [her boyfriend] at a party, then she went to a bathroom. At 15. I don’t say this stuff for shock value. It happens here, unfortunately.”
Service providers or anyone else who learns about the sexual exploitation of anyone under 18 should not “put on their capes,” Barksdale said. “Call the police.”
A free training session on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is happening at Cinemapolis from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesday, October 11.
The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County has ongoing crisis support for people experiencing domestic or sexual violence. Go to their website here or call their hotline at 607-277-5000.
Featured photograph of Clothesline Project display in DeWitt Park on October 3, 2017. See this Kelsey O’Connor story for more on that Advocacy Center project. Photo: Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers
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