Juvenile and family court judges are uniquely situated to enhance the multi-disciplinary efforts of courts to understand and respond to domestic child sex trafficking.
We know that trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and we also know that a high percentage of runaway children will be recruited by exploiters within a few days of leaving their home.
Nearly 40 percent of runaway or homeless youth are LGBTQ or gender non-conforming youth, placing them at increased risk for exploitation.
Judges who work with families and children, like myself, are mindful that in 2015, there were more than 4 million reports through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline of suspected child sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. Many of these children are “system-involved,” meaning that they were active within the delinquency or foster-care system.
Gender sensitivity is a term of art in survivor recovery. It is also a critical part of treatment for survivors, particularly when a child may have suffered trauma due to their gender or sexual orientation.
This can include a child being forced out of the home because they were gender non-conforming, being sexually assaulted or bullied because of their gender expression, or being denied proper services due to their sexual orientation.
In addition, stigma and culture may inhibit seeking help for trafficking victims.
Although the overwhelming majority of identified domestic child sex trafficking victims are female, boys are sometimes perceived as willing participants or exploiters. Consequently, the scope of male sexual exploitation and victimization may be underreported.
For both boys and girls, the trafficking of young victims often takes place during foundational stages of psychosocial development. This can lead to a great amount of confusion, frustration and anger during late adolescence and early adulthood, when healthy social development plays a prominent influence in education, friendship, job seeking and growing independence.
Judicial leadership is necessary in creating an awareness of complex trauma as well.
As Heather Clawson, a trafficking researcher, wrote in her report on recovery for survivors of trafficking, “Trauma exposure occurs along a continuum of complexity, from the less complex single, adult-onset incident (e.g., a car accident) … to the repeated and intrusive trauma frequently of an interpersonal nature, often involving a significant amount of stigma or shame.”
Complex trauma, recovery and gender sensitivity all go hand-in-hand when courts address child sex trafficking survivors.
Judges are central in developing the individualized responses that acknowledge the resilience of survivors and focus on healing, recovery and restoration, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender identity.
Judges also need to develop their skills to understand the important role that gender sensitivity plays in crafting an effective response at the case and system level.
For more information on gender sensitivity and judicial response to domestic child sex trafficking, visit Rights4Girls.org or the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges at www.ncjfcj.org.
Judge John J. Romero Jr. is a judge of the 2nd Judicial District Court (Bernalillo County). He is presiding judge of the Children’s Court Division. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.