How do you take care of a 7-year-old who had been sex trafficked since she was 5? Stacey came to live with us at the Home for Little Wanderers when she was 7. Now at 11, after four years of intensive therapeutic treatment, she has started to rebuild her life in the care of a loving family. Still, can one even begin to imagine her trauma, her distrust of adults and the world, her confusion and anger? Saddest of all is that, for child welfare providers, Stacey’s situation is not unusual.
And so I say to the institutions here in Boston that received millions of dollars from Jeffrey Epstein: Open your hearts — and your wallets — to the victims of his atrocities and the countless others like him. Let’s use that money to bring the best minds to the table to develop innovative and creative ways to care for the victims of child sexual abuse and raise awareness to stop the problem.
Studies consistently report that up to 90 percent of sex-trafficked children have been involved in the child welfare system. The instability and lack of permanency for children who move in and out of the system creates an opportunity for traffickers to prey on them. One in three teens will be approached by an exploiter within two to three days of becoming homeless. These are kids who have already experienced trauma, only to be thrust into a life we can hardly stand to image.
The Epstein case has brought a heightened awareness to the problem of child sexual abuse, but what it hasn’t brought is a solution. Recent coverage, including a lot of political bantering and finger-pointing, has centered around what organizations like Harvard and MIT, to which Epstein donated significant sums, should do with that money. But this isn’t just a question for these institutions involved. It’s one for all of us: What could be done with those significant resources if in the right hands. How many lives could be saved? How many kids could be rescued and treated? How many already vulnerable children could get the love and attention they need so they aren’t susceptible to traffickers? How much awareness can we raise so that sex trafficking of children stops?
Massachusetts should be a leader in ending child sex trafficking. The millions of dollars that flowed into this state from Epstein could be put toward a public campaign that heightens awareness of child sex trafficking so that we can be more diligent about stopping it. That money should be used to fund the extensive physical and mental recovery efforts required to help victims manage the trauma so that they can rebuild their lives and find stability. Those dollars mean the difference between providing an abused child with a stable, warm environment that comes with the intensive services to help in their recovery versus growing up scared and alone — and more susceptible to victimization.
The country’s oldest and brightest child welfare organizations exist right here in Massachusetts. Working together and well funded, we can change the lives of child victims and change the culture around child sex trafficking. Funnel those dollars into organizations that can have real impact.
Let’s come together to help victims like Stacey and prevent children from becoming victims in the first place.
Lesli Suggs in the president and CEO of the Home for Little Wanderers.