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From Black Voices— When ex-NFL great Lawrence Taylor was arrested for allegedly raping a minor, youth sex trafficking hit the national spotlight. In a trend that spans across America, young women, most of whom seem to be lured in to the sex trade with promises of money, shelter and sometimes love, are finding themselves as prostitutes in a ring organized by their “protectors.”

Haley Volpintesta, a Chicago-based human rights advocate with 10 years of experience working with youth impacted by the sex trade, nationally and internationally, and the juvenile and criminal justice systems says that while many young women are coerced into prostitution, many others engage in survival sex, trading sex for basic needs like food and shelter, even in the Unites States of America. “They may see their involvement in the sex trade as temporary, until they can figure out how to get their needs met in other ways,” she says.

So basic tools of survival lead some girls to trade sex for money?

Some young people find themselves in situations where they are relying on very limited choices because their very basic needs aren’t met. Coming from an abusive home, not having a safe place to live, not having food or even feeling pressured to meet a certain standard with clothes may lead them to the sex trade. This industry is motivated by poverty and capitalism. Around the country and internationally, not having what one needs to live often make this, for some people, a realistic thing to do.

How are girls recruited into the sex trade?

One girl I worked with had been dating a man for more than a year. When he asked her to move to New York it was on the premise that he would help her go to college and they would build a life together. She was completely unaware that he was a pimp. In situations where young people are runaways, pimps often act as a caring adult who can rescue them from the unsafe streets, only to find out that they are expected to pay for that ‘care’ and ‘protection’ through sex work. Through building rapport with the young person and convincing her that the sex trade is a “good choice” or necessary to uphold their relationship, girls are lured into the life. Some have reported drugs being used to keep them compliant.

Who are the girls? Are they runaways, juvenile delinquents, or promiscuous teens?

Many of the women were involved with an intimate partner who was involved in sex work. We think about pimps in a very particular way but in many instances these pimps are their boyfriends. This prostitution is another manifestation of domestic violence.
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