Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) opened the third of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Speaker Series yesterday by providing an introduction on the caucus and the issue of domestic sex trafficking of youth in foster care. Grassley described the caucus as a forum for youth and young adults with foster care experiences to be heard by federal decision makers across legislative jurisdictions. He further explained that youth in care are particularly vulnerable to the advances of predators, that they are victims, and that we collectively have a responsibility to address their needs.
Tanee Hobson and Withelma “T” Ortiz are young women who speak about their experiences of domestic trafficking victimization and work to combat it and its effects professionally. Both bravely shared their story of growing up in foster care with feelings of loneliness and abandonment that caused their vulnerability to exploitation.
Tanee emphasized raising awareness amongst workers to recognize that children’s lives are not confined to business hours and that children are victims, not other labels. Ortiz called for coordination of domestic trafficking services into a national network. She also identified a need for more safe havens, to alleviate the reliance on using detention to keep victims safe. She further explained that services must be individualized and should be implemented by both survivors and allied individuals. She described support from survivors as inspiring and hopeful and support from allies as critical to understanding the difference between “who you are and what was done to you.”
Four professionals who work with victims of domestic sex trafficking provided a comprehensive overview of its manifestation, what is being done about it and what is needed moving forward. The panelists all called for universal and targeted education and training for child welfare, juvenile justice, and court professionals. Each described initiatives that they created or implemented to enable such collaboration, focusing on various aspects of rescue and response. Additional themes emerging from the panel including improving assessment tools and approaches and focusing on permanency for healing.