by Melissa Snow
Guest blogger Melissa Snow of Shared Hope International discusses their new public awareness campaign to address child trafficking in street prostitution in Washington, DC. Child sex trafficking happens all over our nation’s capitol, sometimes only steps from the White House and blocks from a symbol of the end of slavery — the Lincoln Memorial.
The words ‘sex’, ‘children’ and ‘13′ are an unlikely combination for a campaign message, but this month in Washington, D.C., Shared Hope International confronts a shocking reality; American children are sold for sex in Washington D.C. This September, in collaboration with the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, we’re unveiling End Child Sex Trafficking: Kids are NOT for Sale in D.C., an awareness campaign to shed light on child sex trafficking in Washington, D.C. In Metro stations near hot tourist spots, on over 200 metro buses, within the Adult Classifieds and Erotic Sections of CityPaper, and on a bus shelter on 14th and K streets, bright yellow advertisements catch the eyes of D.C. residents and visitors that scream messages such as “13 is the average age children are forced into prostitution”.
These advertisements, although shocking, reveal that human trafficking is not just an international issue — it occurs in our nation’s capital. Along intersections such as 14th and K Streets, famously populated by lobbyists during the day, and along New York Avenue, young American girls are exploited by a pimp and sold for sex many times a night. These young girls’ lives are risked every day when they take to the streets to earn money for their pimp. The advertising campaign, Kids are NOT for Sale in D.C., will make D.C. residents and tourists aware of sex trafficking in Washington D.C. and warn off potential buyers of sex, that buying a child for sex can result in a life sentence.
The Kids are Not for Sale Campaign will run throughout the month of September and is in timing with D.C. Human Trafficking Awareness month. Sponsored by the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaboration of local governmental and nonprofit organizations, the Task Force hopes to engage the local community to stop Washington D.C. from becoming a breeding ground for traffickers.
The Washington D.C. area has been identified as a sex trafficking hub, and the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force is aggressively tackling predators who attempt to buy or sell children in the District. Just last week, Shelby Lewis was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. and charged with five counts of Sex Trafficking of Children and four counts of Interstate Transportation of a Minor for Purposes of Prostitution. Lewis, a Maryland resident, brought underage girls – including a 12 year old – into D.C. where he forced them into prostitution. If convicted, Lewis faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Shelby Lewis’ case proves that human trafficking is occurring in Washington, D.C.; however, his arrest proves that human trafficking is not tolerated in our Nation’s capital.
Although sex trafficking is a difficult topic to face, for the young girls and boys who are trapped in this modern day slave trade we must confront and overthrow this organized crime. American kids are being victimized in our nation’s capitol and we need your help to stand up to sex trafficking in Washington D.C. Not on our streets, not in our city, not in our Nations’ capital – Washington D.C. will not allow the sale of American children for sex.
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon