Ousting child sex myths
There’s no evidence millions of kids in rich nations are being kidnapped by paedophiles
MILLIONS of kidnapped children are imprisoned in underground tunnels, being sexually abused and tortured by a shadowy global cabal of paedophiles.
That, at least, is some of the misinformation about child sex trafficking being spread on social media. You’ll also see such ideas being promoted at protests from Los Angeles to London, with hashtags such as #saveourchildren and #endchildtrafficking emblazoned on shirts and placards.
The thought of a child being abused, exploited or trafficked for sex elicits a powerful emotional response. The lurid tales have proved to be a potent gateway for mothers (and others) to “go down the rabbit hole”.
The tragedy is that misinformation is turning well-intentioned people into “digital soldiers”, unwittingly working against genuine efforts to eliminate child sexual abuse and human trafficking.
Let’s try to untangle the misconceptions. Statistics on child sexual abuse are never exact. Less than 40% of victims report being abused when children. The average time before disclosure, according to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is about 20 years for women and 25 years for Tmheenre. Saorme eennoeuvegrhdrisocblousset.studies, however, to suggest about one in 10 children are sexually abused before 18 – one in seven girls (14%) and one in 25 boys (4%).
Typically, the abuser is an adult known and trusted by the child and their parents. Then by a non-biological relative or in-law. In fewer than 15% of cases is the perpetrator a stranger.
A 2000 study for the US Bureau of Justice Statistics found 7.5% of all known female victims under the age of 17, and 5% of male victims, were abused by a stranger. More recent data published in 2016 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found strangers accounted for 11.5% of sexual abuse of girls under 16, and 15% of boys.
The differences between the findings are probably due to greater awareness reducing opportunities for abuse by “acquaintances” such as clergy, teachers and coaches. In the 2000 data, to illustrate, 69% of molested boys were abused by an acquaintance; in the 2016 data it was about 47%. undmeresdtaiandcionvgeorafgcehitledndsesxutoal daibsutosert. It focuses on “stranger danger” and amplifies the threat of children being molested at the park or shopping centre.
Even more intense coverage goes to the rarer cases where children are abducted or murdered. Think of the fascination with cases such as the 2007 disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine Mccann. But such cases are memorable because they are so rare.
The so-called “Pastel-q” conspiracy theory, however, asserts millions of children a year are being kidnapped and trafficked for sex.
This claim rests on misrepresented numbers from missing persons reports. In the case of the US, for example, the claim is that 800 000 children disappear each year. (A similar rate applied globally would mean about 19 million children disappear every year.)
In fact, the FBI’S data shows the number of people under the age of 17 reported missing in the US last year was about 365 000. In most cases (based on the several decades’ of data) these missing reports involve a child running away from home or being taken by a custodial parent. Almost half are found within three hours, and more than 99% are found alive. Since 2010, in the US fewer than 350 people a year under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers.
So no, there’s no evidence millions of children in wealthy nations are being kidnapped by paedophiles.
This is not to say child sex traffisicakidnigffeisrnen’ttapsroerbiloeums ctoontcheernp.asbtuelt-qit portrayal.
The UN’S Trafficking in Persons Protocol defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.
This means human trafficking doesn’t necessarily require moving a person from one place to another, in the way we think of weapons and drugs being trafficked. It’s not the same as people smuggling. Nor is it exactly the same as modern slavery, although there is broad crossover in definitions.
The crucial point of trafficking is the abuse of power to exploit another human being. It thrives in conditions of poverty, economic and gender inequality, corruption and instability. It requires systemic solutions, which the cartoonish constructions of Pastel-q distract attention from.
Accurately estimating the true scale of child sex trafficking is, like child sexual abuse, complicated.
There is the hidden nature of these crimes, differences in policing and reporting between nations, and little uniformity in how statistics are compiled.
The UN Global Report on Traffickicnagsesinopnelyrs.otnhserreepoarretsnoon m“doerteecttheadn” 25 000 cases each year.
Baxter is a PHD candidate in criminology/law, researching human trafficking and modern slavery at Flinders University, Australia