Steuben County has launched a five-year plan to prevent commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 18 years old.
“It’s really any time that a kid is taken advantage of in exchange for something whether it’s drugs, whether it’s a place to spend the night,” Bill Caudill, Steuben County youth bureau coordinator, said.
It differs from human trafficking in a way in that trafficking involves transporting the child to sell him or her overseas or somewhere else into sex slavery. With commercial exploitation, the child engages in a sexual act for a deal. It could be for money, a gift, or even affection.
The victim might also believe it’s normal or that payments are natural.
“There’s a term that’s sometimes used and that is ‘grooming’ and that is, it takes time for an individual to develop that relationship with a kid to where that kid can trust them,” Caudill said.
The word ‘grooming’ was used many times by young women testifying in Larry Nassar’s court case. Although it’s a different type of sexual abuse, the disgraced gymnastics coach was accused of grooming his victims, trying to gain their trust because he was a doctor – someone you should be able to trust.
With commercial sexual exploitation, many times the victim knows and trusts the abuser.
The five year plan is in the beginning stages but the county just pulled a committee together on Tuesday and will be raising awareness soon. It will provide training for stakeholders like law enforcement agencies and social services staff and then eventually in schools.
In addition to sexual exploitation, the county is looking at labor exploitation where minors are working and not getting paid.