The Pandemic Has Put More Kids At Risk Of Sex Trafficking, And Funding To Help Survivors Has Dwindled
Texas groups helping survivors want legislators in the third special session to earmark some COVID-19 relief funding for their services.
The largest recipient of federal funds distributed through the governor’s office to help child sex trafficking survivors is set to see a 40% reduction in funding from the previous cycle. Other organizations are receiving nothing.
The cuts could not come at a more difficult time as more kids and teens are online for school or socialization, and could find themselves in a situation in which they encounter unwanted sexual solicitation, says Krista Piferrer, vice president of government relations at BCFS, an international network of health and human services nonprofit organizations.
“In addition, of course, if children are in school, we all know that, that teachers and our doctors, those are those are safety posts to be able to see if a child might be being abused or neglected at home. And again, COVID has pushed that … into the shadows a little bit more over this time,” Piferrer told Texas Standard.
At risk with the funding cuts is the scope of the work BCFS and its partners can do.
“We’re there when law enforcement might lead a sting and find a child who is being sex trafficked, and we stand beside that child during that interview process and every day, every hour henceforth,” she said.
Without more funding, Piferrer says BCFS will have to try to find other cash-scrapped partners to take over cases or transition survivors out of the program altogether.
So how did we get here? Piferrer says it’s not the direct fault of anyone in particular. One cause has been less funding through the Victims of Crime Acts, or VOCA. For decades, that did help funnel some money from court proceedings to help survivors. But the funding has been less robust as more cases were settled outside of court. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and halted many court proceedings altogether.
To fix the dwindling fund, Congress overwhelmingly passed a law President Biden signed this summer, which is an updated version of VOCA that aims to get the money flowing again.
But advocates like Piferrer say it will take years to rebuild the fund, and groups like hers need grant money now to maintain the level of service they’ve been providing.
She says before the pandemic, studies found 1 in 7 young people had experienced some sort of unwanted sexual solicitation online, and 1 in 3 had been exposed to unwanted sexual material online.
She says the groups involved the Texas governor’s anti-child-sex-trafficking program are now asking lawmakers, who are tasked with doling out funds from the federal COVID relief fund, to set aside $15 million for them.
“To bridge that gap [until new VOCA money starts flowing], bring us to today’s current capacity and ensure that we’re maintaining these services for the children who need it,” Piferrer said.
She says parents and guardians need to have conversations with kids about online safety.
“You emphasize that if they get scared, they need to come to you,” Piferrer said.
She also recommends parents check out the App Fact Sheets provided by the Carly Ryan Foundation.
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