Exposing Child Sex Trafficking with Beth Holger (The Link) and Lara Powers (Polaris Project)
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking and conspiracy. Court documents show Epstein sexually abused and exploited dozens of underage girls in the early 2000’s. Despite over a decade of such allegations, he has avoided major jail time.
Is Epstein’s case an example of a bigger problem in the United States? And if so, where are the victims coming from, and why hasn’t more been done to combat child trafficking?
Today we hear from two experts in the field of child sex trafficking. They discuss the importance of the Epstein case, misconceptions about child sex trafficking in the U.S., and how we can help support victims in our communities.
Here’s Jessica Beatty with more.
Beth Holger has over 20 years of experience in the field of youth homelessness and sex trafficking. She is the Executive Director of The Link, which is a nonprofit based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It provides emergency shelter, housing, and supportive services for homeless youth and victims of sex trafficking.
Q: So I wanted to ask you, since you have so much experience in this field, what are the biggest misconceptions regarding child sex trafficking in the U.S.?
Beth: Sure. I think one of the largest misconceptions is that it’s a victimless crime and that, you know, children and youth are doing this because of their own choices. Really that is not the case.
And I know that there are some people that you know are out there saying that, but what’s really happening, what we see happening every day unfortunately, is that there are basically 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old girls or boys or transgender young people that are getting basically forced into sex trafficking through media manipulation or through the fact that they’re experiencing homelessness and don’t have anywhere to live.
So traffickers are approaching them and recruiting them in and it’s really horrific. They are controlled by them. They experience a high, unfortunately, a very high rate of violence by the traffickers and also by the people that are purchasing them for sex.
And so it’s definitely not a victimless crime. And the youth that we work with are not doing this because they want to be abused.
I mean they’re doing it because of a lack of other options in their life or because they’re literally forced into it.
Q: Recently new charges were unsealed about Jeffrey Epstein. I think a lot of people were pretty shocked that such a wealthy and powerful person with high level connections like he has would be involved in something like this. So are there misconceptions about the traffickers too?
Definitely. So I think that people have stereotypes of what like a pimp or a trafficker is and what a buyer of sex is. But we actually had some research done out of the University of Minnesota and found that the majority of the purchasers of sex are wealthy white–middle class to wealthy white men, you know, a little bit older age range.
So the charges against him were not surprising to me at all because we see very, very wealthy, successful businessmen or politicians or people that have careers in a lot of different ways that are highly successful.
Maybe they think that they’re above the law or I’m not exactly sure. But they have an extreme amount of wealth and privilege. And unfortunately, they think that they have the power to buy whatever they want, including people.
I’m so excited that he got charged. He should have obviously spent way more time in prison from the first go around. But I’m very, very happy to see him charged. But I wasn’t surprised because there definitely are people like him, unfortunately.
I also spoke with Lara Powers from the Polaris Project. The Polaris Project helps victims of human trafficking, and it operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Lara is the senior adviser on survivor engagement.
I asked her if she’s noticed any trends in data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Lara: You know, I often hear of people who look at our hotline data, for example, and notice that numbers seem to be getting higher for their state, for example. And taking that as an indicator that trafficking is increasing or that trafficking is particularly severe in that community.
But what those numbers really reflect is that people are becoming more aware of the issue and they’re reporting it as the number of cases that we’re seeing rises.
It means that the anti-trafficking field is doing a better job and that community members are more educated on the issue and are making reports and facilitating information through the field rather than indicative of the crime worsening.
Click the play button at the top to hear the whole interview.
I’d like to thank Beth Holger and Lara Powers for joining us and sharing their insights into this topic. It may be dark, but the charges against Jeffrey Epstein could be a sign that human traffickers will be held accountable, no matter how high their connections may be.
You can learn more about the Polaris Project at polarisproject.org. The National Human Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and support. It also takes tips about potential human trafficking cases. You can find more information at humantraffickinghotline.org.
If you’d like to learn more about The Link in Minneapolis and its programs, you can find it at thelinkmn.org.