Most people can agree that children caught up in the commercial sex industry need help. How to help those children trapped in the sex industry — and even knowing how many child victims are involved — is often the point at which radically differing opinions enter the conversation.
Those who push legislation that decriminalizes prostitution for minors contend that arresting these minors further traumatizes them. Proponents of decriminalization want to remove the possibility of arrest.
Others strenuously argue that removing the discretion of law enforcement, district attorneys, and judges from the process takes away one of the most effective means of rescuing children; they say that taking law enforcement out of the picture is not the answer.
Those who advocate the decriminalization of prostitution for minors claim that thousands of minors are arrested every year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report shows though that less than two percent of all arrests for prostitution are minors, averaging 1,117 a year. The Human Trafficking Reporting System identified 248 minors 17 years old and younger as victims of sex trafficking during the January 2008-June 2010 reporting period. According to the FBI's Innocence Lost National Initiative, as of April 2011, more than 1,600 children have been rescued since 2003.
So how many children are victims of sex trafficking in the United States? It depends on who you ask. There are estimates, all based on guesses, that range from 100,000 to 2.4 million children. The United States Department of Justice uses the number 293,000 as the estimate for youth "at risk" of being commercially sexually exploited. The only hard data available are from the government sources listed above.
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