Child sex trade becoming a US 'epidemic'

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The Independent US

As many as 400,000 children in the United States are victims of the sex trade each year, from juvenile pornography and street prostitution to selling sex at school, a study released yesterday said.

Richard Estes, co-author of the report and a professor of social work at Pennsylvania University, said: "We project one out of every 100 American children is involved in sexually exploitative activities. This is an epidemic." Professor Estes said 90 per cent of children involved in the sex trade were US nationals; the remainder were smuggled into the country.

Based on field research and surveys from 288 federal and local agencies, the two-year study estimated between 300,000 and 400,000 children in America were victims of sexual exploitation each year.

Professor Estes said: "That figure just blew our minds. We never thought we would encounter so many children in this predicament." The researchers visited 17 cities, amounting for 40 per cent of the population

The study found that as many boys as girls were affected but boys got less attention from officials because of the view that they could look after themselves. "Every place we went, we found for every girl there was a boy involved too. People feel a need to protect girls and for boys it's thought of as sowing their oats," said Professor Estes, adding some boys graduated from sexual servitude to becoming pimps.

The study found that 95 per cent of the commercial sex engaged in by boys was with men and at least 25 per cent of girls who were in gangs had sex with other members as part of the gang rites. Many of the exploiters of boys were married men with children.

The largest groups of children affected were runaway, "throwaway" and homeless youths, many of whom used "survival sex" to acquire food, shelter, clothing and other things needed to eke out a living on America's streets, Professor Estes said.