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Report Released on Sexual Exploitation of Children in the United States, Mexico, and Canada

9/21/2001:   The magnitude of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and commercial sexual exploitation of children in North America is much greater than previously supposed—300,000 to 400,000 children in the United States, alone—according to a three-year study led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work. Furthermore, social service agencies are not prepared to handle the multifaceted problem, according to the research team who reviewed data and interviewed social service professionals, police, victims, perpetrators, and others in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Researchers also found that few government agencies or private providers have confronted the policy and service implications of CSE. Few agencies have even defined what is meant by CSE and fewer still have integrated their definitions into formal policies and procedures.

The project was a unique partnership of agencies in each country comprising, among others, leading governmental and nongovernmental organizations (including Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the National Association of Social Workers) as well as universities. The W.T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Fund for Nonviolence, and the Research Foundation of the University of Pennsylvania provided funding. The report is available electronically, in whole or in sections, at http://caster.ssw.upenn.edu/%7Erestes/CSEC.htm.

While the magnitude of the problem is still a matter of debate, the significance of the problem and its impact is not. The day the report was released, Natalie Allen of CNN interviewed CWLA Executive Director Shay Bilchik about the implications of the report’s findings. He confirmed many of the report’s highlights, including the finding that strangers account for only 3% of sexual exploitation and abuse of children whereas 47% of such abuse comes from family members. "Most of these children are from middle class homes…Many of the children who are runaways or ‘throwaways’ are not being taken care of, nurtured, or protected. They are running away from something, not to something," he noted. "We need to do a better job as a society in identifying those children, those families, and doing the kind of prevention and interventions that could be successful in reducing those numbers, including greater levels of enforcement on this issue."

He added, "It is important to empower children who are abused, neglected, or exploited to go to a counselor, teacher, or someone at their church or synagogue to talk about the issue. It is not their fault; they are not to blame. There is a devastating impact on the lives of these children, and if they don’t have treatment and pay attention to the needs that they have at this crisis in their lives, they have very little chance to achieve a fruitful, productive life."

For information on child sexual abuse and assisting children who have been abused, go to http://www.cwla.org/pubs.

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