Protecting Girls AND Boys from Sexual Exploitation

October 16, 2013

There is no way to tell, just by looking at the plain brick building lying on the edge of Flatbush, that the Jewish Child Care Association has been around for 191 years. The building, simply labeled “JCCA East 29th Street Brooklyn Office,” sits around the corner from Magic Nail Salon and Choice French Cleaners. The Association offers many services ranging from adoption to daycare to mental health services, but two of their programs stand out in particular because of their focus on helping both girls and boys who have been sexually exploited.

The Association was formed in 1822 to specifically help Jewish orphans. Since then, it has expanded and now offers its social services “helping kids of all backgrounds,” described Leslie Gottlieb, the Director of Communication and Marketing for the Association. Their new program, called RESOLVE, seeks to find foster parents for commercially exploited children, also known as CSEC. The program officially began in August 2013 and is contracted by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to care for 24 children. It provides intensive therapy and training to help these children rejoin their communities before being placed in foster homes.

A previously established program at the Jewish Child Care Association is called Gateways, which is based in West Chester. This is a residential program that serves teenage girls who have been sexually exploited. The program houses 13 girls who then complete a 6 to 12 month program that concentrates on three areas. These are called the 3Rs: Recognize trauma, Rebuild self-esteem, and Reconnect to healthy and accessible community resources. “Gateways is a model program for women. There are a lot of misconceptions about these girls and this program helps women go back to college and to their families,” said Gottlieb.

Gateways serves as the first stop for sexually exploited girls and then they can step down to the RESOLVE program. Currently, there is only one girl who is undergoing this process. She is seventeen years old, attends school, and participates in the Association’s youth development program. Kiersten Daniel, the program director for RESOLVE and other specialized programs spoke from the Association’s Bronx office when she said, “She is looking for a job close to her home in the community and has been meeting with our vocational coordinator to help her in finding a position.” She now lives with a foster parent.

Although many of the children brought into the program will initially be girls, RESOLVE is also for boys. The ACS has stated that there are 2,200 sexually exploited children in New York City according to a 2007 report. Daniel explained that part of the reason for starting this program was because the Association felt that not enough attention was being given to boys.

Daniel referenced a report titled “And Boys Too” by End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and Trafficking Children for Sexual Purposes, also known as ECPAT-USA. This report has been useful in the Association’s research in creating RESOLVE. The report stated, “The John Jay College and the Center for Court Innovation study The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City in 2008 estimated that as high as 50% of the commercially sexually exploited children in the U.S. are boys.”

The Association receives the most of the information on exploited children in New York City, as well as its funding from the ACS. The press office for ACS explained upon inquiry that the ACS was chosen by the Mayor’s office to plan for and distribute the $622,220 that the City received in Safe Harbor funds. These funds were allocated by New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services.

The press office stated in a report that, “Children’s Services proposes using $217,000 of the Safe Harbor funds to increase [the Department of Youth and Community Development’s] street outreach work and build outreach workers’ capacity to identify and engage youth at risk of sexual exploitation who may be AWOL from foster care placements.”

Many of the exploited children in New York City are identified through the outreach efforts of ACS and the New York Police Department. In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg announced the launch of Operation Guardian, an initiative that would target pimps and provide around the clock support for exploited children that are identified and cooperate with the prosecutions. When asked, the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information was not aware whether Operation Guardian was still in effect today.

While New York law enforcement struggles with finding both girls and boys who are sexually abused and exploited, Daniel described that for the Association, “The hardest part has been finding foster parents.” Some find the entire program to be slightly controversial and ultimately, caring for a child that has gone through this sort of abuse can be far more intense than many people can handle. Separate from the children, the foster parents all go through special training on how to care for traumatized children. “Their training is not just about being a foster parent, but educating them about CSEC,” said Daniel.

RESOLVE works to recruit foster parents from all five boroughs in New York City. Daniel explained that the Association has been trying to build awareness in various synagogues, churches, community centers, and libraries. “And all of [these locations] have to be LGBTQ affirming,” said Daniel, which means that they are open to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community becoming foster parents.

The entire process for foster parents can take 4 to 9 months. The children and foster parents are all required to work with licensed social workers and psychologists throughout their training. Right now, there are four potential foster parents in the RESOLVE program. They are required to go through a home study conducted by a social worker, as well as a psychological screening. Much of the training curriculum for RESOLVE has been modeled after another organization called Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) based in Harlem.

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services was founded in 1998 by Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of sexual exploitation. The organization focuses on young women between the ages of 12 and 24 and helps them to get out of the commercial sex industry. Besides doing outreach and providing therapy, GEMS also offers housing to these young women. Representatives from GEMS often go up to the Gateways program to facilitate survivor-led groups.

Both Gottlieb and Daniel talked about how the issue has been elevated especially in the past year with the FBI opening hundreds of investigations into cases of sex trafficking. President Obama made a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative on human trafficking in September 2012 calling it “a debasement of our common humanity.”

It has proven to be a difficult task to identify and help these children who have faced so much trauma at a young age. The efforts to help boys, in particular, pale in comparison to helping girls according to ECPAT-USA’s report. It is another struggle to educate and reach out to the community in general about CSEC and how they can help them. Even more challenging is the fact that fewer people are willing to become foster parents for these kids. Daniel commented that it has helped that the subject has been in the spotlight recently, but as Gottlieb stated, “There are stereotypes [about these children] that are just not true.”