Justice under law for sex-trafficking victims is still beyond reach

Kelly Matheson – WNN Justice

Map from WomenStats Project shows countries where women and girls are trafficked
A map from the WomenStats Project shows the countries and regions where women and girls are currently being trafficked. Image: WSP

(WNN/WITNESS) Atlanta, GEORGIA, U.S.: Sexual slavery is now happening in all six United Nations Regional Groups as human traffickers target women and girls. Most from poverty, broken homes and abuse. Because of this they are more vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by traffickers. This first hand story by Kelly Matheson comes with an important video produced by ‘stop human trafficking’ advocates ECPAT-USA with the online human rights video documentary community site called WITNESS:

While at the convening of the U.S. Human Rights Network last December I did a pre-release screening of a new documentary co-produced by ECPAT-USA and WITNESS. The video, “What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am,” tells the story of Katrina, a formerly sexually exploited teen who was arrested, when she should have been protected. No one in this small audience could believe that, in the U.S., we jail children who are bought and sold for sex, rationalizing that prison will protect them from their traffickers. Admittedly, when I first heard about this back in August of 2010, I did not believe it either. But we do do this.

In thinking about this reality for exploited children, I asked myself, if I am raped should I be imprisoned to protect me from my rapist? If my domestic partner physically abuses me in my own home, should I be imprisoned to protect me from my domestic partner? The answer is black and white. It’s no. And it’s this very contradiction in laws across the U.S. that the film Not Who I Am addresses and which our partner, ECPAT-USA is working to change.

In the documentary, Katrina, tells the story of being lured into the sex industry while still a teen, and the abuse she suffered from a trafficker who keep her in that life. Her compelling and emotional story takes us from Atlanta to New York City and to Atlanta again, from desperation to recovery and success. Her story illustrates the failure of the criminal justice system to help these youth and call on our state legislatures to stand up and make justice a reality for our country’s exploited children.

Here is Katrina’s story, a story that mirrors that of thousands of young girls and boys in every corner of my country:


“What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am” is a documentary exploring “the life” through the eyes of one of child prostitution’s many victims. Experts and legislators way in on what is being done to ensure that prostituted children are not treated as criminals as well as what obstacles still need to be overcome. This heart wrenching documentary is an informative look at the hidden world of commercial sexual exploitation of children and what government, law enforcement, and non-profits are doing to combat it. The trailer (3 mins) is available here: http://youtu.be/j4l7vSUhkew. This video is co-produced by ECPAT-USA and WITNESS.


Now that you have heard Katrina’s voice, please use yours.

To help protect exploited children:

  • Share this film with your local legislatures and ask them to support and pass state-wide legislation that-
  1. Protects exploited children under 18 from being treated as juvenile offenders
  2. Provides victims with emergency and long-term services
  3. Increases penalties for criminals selling and buying sex with children
  4. Empowers government and non-profit collaboration assist victims and prosecute offenders
  • Share this film with faith-based communities, your local law enforcement offices, shelter services within your community, child welfare offices, family and friends and ask them to write to their state legislators and share the film too.
  • To report an instance of human trafficking or if you are a victim of human trafficking, call the National Trafficking Hotline operated by the Polaris Project for confidential help 24/7 at 888-3737-888.


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WNN encourages conversation. All opinions expressed in this story belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of WNN – Women News Network. No part of this commentary (op-ed) may be reproduced without prior permissions from WNN, WITNESS, ECPAT-USA &/or the author.