A Federal Partnership Brings Justice to Sexual Exploiters While Protecting Runaway and Homeless Youth

The Family and Youth Services Bureau and the FBI have joined forces to combat domestic sex trafficking of children and youth in the United States.

Thousands of American young people are exploited by the commercial sex industry each year. Particularly at risk are runaway and homeless youth: One in three young people is approached or recruited by a pimp or exploiter within the first 48 hours of living on the street.

Innocence Lost is a nationwide FBI collaboration with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The initiative aims to recover victims of child prostitution and bring to justice pimps and criminal organizations that run prostitution rings. Begun in 2003, the initiative has 44 task forces around the country.

“Our Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grantees have historically served victims of commercial sexual exploitation,” says Curtis Porter, director of FYSB’s division of youth services. “But now we’re bringing a real focus to that work by collaborating with the FBI.”

A key component of the new collaboration is the two bureaus’ work to create a protocol for serving children and youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The protocol is being developed in four pilot cities with strong Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grantees and a strong FBI crimes-against-children presence. Youth programs in Miami, Seattle and Everett, WA, and Toledo, OH, have teamed up with the FBI’s Innocence Lost task forces, which work to prosecute pimps and criminal organizations that run prostitution rings. The task forces also seek to return victims to their families, when doing so is appropriate, and keep them safe during the long periods of time it can take to prosecute perpetrators of sex trafficking.

The four Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grantees currently serve as “safe places” for victims, train their staffs on working with exploited youth, accompany FBI task forces on raids, and work closely with the FBI’s victim specialists. The cooperative relationships enable victims to get services as quickly as possible and to have 24-hour access to concerned adults who can keep them from being intimidated and manipulated by exploiters.

FYSB’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs fund emergency shelters, transitional living programs and outreach to runaway, homeless and street youth.

 “Together with the FBI and our four grantees, we’re working to spread the lessons-learned from the four pilot cities to the other 40 task force locations and across the nation,” Porter says.