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Any vulnerable child can be a victim of sex trafficking, but we can no longer gloss over the fact that the majority of those who are victimized are girls of color. By illuminating the problem and potential solutions, we are taking a first step towards ending the abuse and exploitation of our most marginalized girls.

Gabrielle Union
Jan, 26, 2017

As I reflect on the past year and set my priorities for the months ahead, I find it essential to speak out about the complex issues confronting girls and young women of color today, including racism, sexism, poverty, and sexual abuse.

Right now, thousands of children in our country are being lured, manipulated, terrorized, bought, sold, and raped. I know this is a difficult topic, but it’s important that you stay with me. To create REAL change, we’ve got to be willing to have REAL, uncomfortable, and challenging conversations.

Let’s be clear: this is a gender issue. The majority of identified trafficking victims are girls and young women, but it goes deeper than that. We have to call attention to an aspect of this issue that is seldom discussed, and that is the fact girls of color, particularly African-American girls, are especially vulnerable to human trafficking. According to Rights4Girls , a leading advocacy organization working to improve the lives of marginalized girls, not only are girls of color disproportionately impacted by human trafficking, but they are also the majority of individuals criminalized for their exploitation.

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According to the FBI, African-American children comprise 52 percent of all juvenile prostitution arrests—more than any other racial group. They are left vulnerable to retraumatization in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, subjected to the consequences of having an arrest and juvenile record, and deprived of appropriate intervention and treatment services made available to other survivors of sexual abuse.

They are more likely to experience poverty, and consequently more likely to be disconnected from schools and other community supports. Studies show that African-American girls experience physical and sexual abuse at younger ages and witness and experience multiple forms of violence at higher rates than their White peers.

The first step is to have compassion for the pain, the discrimination, and unfathomable trauma these girls have experienced. Then, we must channel that compassion into action.

Do everything you can to expose the human rights violations that children who are victims of sexual exploitation suffer in the U.S. at the hands of authorities, instead of receiving the care and assistance to which they are entitled. Join campaigns like No Such Thing , which  seeks to eliminate the term “child prostitute” from our language, law, and media.

We won’t solve this problem by whitewashing the issue and silencing these survivors. We have to take an honest look at who they are, why this is happening, and how we can offer a hand. Racism is woven throughout the horrifying tapestry that is human trafficking. To ignore that fact is to miss the mark completely. To advocate for the freedom of trafficked girls is to boldly acknowledge the connections between race, gender, and child sex trafficking.

Any vulnerable child can be a victim of sex trafficking, but we can no longer gloss over the fact that the majority of those who are victimized are girls of color. By illuminating the problem and potential solutions, we are taking a first step towards ending the abuse and exploitation of our most marginalized girls.