In December, the New York Times reported that girls as young as 13 years old who were sent to one of New York City’s child welfare treatment centers, Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, were targeted for sex trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation during their time at the facility, which is intended to support them in healing from trauma and abuse.Nikita Stewart and Benjamin Weiser, “Troubled Girls Were Sent to This Town to Heal. Many Were Lured Into the Sex Trade Instead,” New York Times, December 13, 2018.
After girls were reported missing, 19 adults were charged in a child trafficking ring that involved at least 15 victims in the child welfare system.Stewart and Weiser, “Many Were Lured Into the Sex Trade,” 2018. Jurisdictions across the country are facing this issue, with traffickers intentionally targeting young people in the child welfare system because of their uniquely vulnerable circumstances.See Caught (podcast), “Episode 8: ‘I Want Someone to Love Me Even for a Second,’” March 27, 2018. Beyond the harm of sexual exploitation itself, being trafficked has the added consequence of making girls in the child welfare system vulnerable to justice system involvement, as the girls are often arrested and charged for crimes related to their status as victims of trafficking.Malika Saada Saar, Rebecca Epstein, Lindsay Rosenthal, and Yasmin Vafa, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story (Washington, DC: Georgetown University, 2015). At least 53 percent of girls entering juvenile detention in New York City are involved in city’s child welfare system, including some who are placed in facilities like Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, and they are often victims of trafficking.New York City Administration for Children's Services data, analyzed by Vera. The majority are girls of color and many are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender nonconforming.New York City Administration for Children's Services data, analyzed by Vera.