By Chris Kirchner
Let me be clear: When there’s someone under the age of 18 being solicited for any type of sexual act, it is not prostitution. It is sexual assault or rape.
I remember, more than a decade ago, reading about a wealthy man named Jeffrey Epstein who was convicted of soliciting a child for sex. Given my line of work—providing healing and justice for Philadelphia victims of child sexual abuse—I certainly took notice of the case.
America, in 2019, is a very different place than it was in 2002. Then, child victims and their families kept abuse silent for fear of shame and retaliation.
Now, in 2019, we see victims empowered by social movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp. While there are still too many children who are sexually assaulted in silence, many more have felt supported to come forward in an effort to end cycles of abuse.
This week, the accusations about Epstein were retold with new details, and we learned that it was not only the alleged abuse of a minor but indeed, hundreds of children who were involved.
As the front-line responder to all reports of child sexual abuse in the city of Philadelphia, the population of kids we serve at the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance (PCA) includes commercially and sexually exploited children.
Along with the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition – a group of social service, government and law enforcement professionals – PCA works with other city partners to identify children who might be at risk of trafficking to put them on a path where they are protected and safe.
People often see youth trafficking depicted in pop culture, such as the film Taken or the television series The Wire, and assume that it is a frightening but distant issue.
But as we are learning from the Epstein case—and what we here at PCA know from our daily work—child sex trafficking exists everywhere.
The fact is, there are a variety of circumstances that can lead a teen to become a victim of trafficking, and as adults and parents, it’s time for us to acknowledge how prevalent and serious this issue is. Because once again, a case of serial child sexual abuse and exploitation is in the headlines.
Once again, a suspected predator was given a pass in spite of significant evidence against him, and we are learning that there were likely many more victims since his original sentencing. Which means, once again, that we’ve missed another opportunity to prevent who-knows-how-many more instances of abuse.
Chris Kirchner is the executive director of Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an independent non-profit organization that promotes healing and justice for sexually abused children in Philadelphia.