Each year in the United States, a quarter of a million children are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, lured into situations of prostitution from which they cannot readily escape. This is the face of human trafficking in the U.S. today; the typical victim is not someone from another country but an American child.
Live Action is the energetic organization headed by 22-year old Lila Rose, who gained fame for a previous expose on underage abortion. Live Action has serially released videos filmed at Planned Parenthood offices in New Jersey, New York and Virginia in which a man posing as a pimp with a juvenile victim at his side inquires about obtaining abortions and contraceptives for his “girls.” (The videos are available for viewing at LiveAction.org.)
Is this pimp sent away by indignant health care providers - or better, are the police called to investigate these evident cases of felony sexual abuse of a minor? Tragically, no: In each instance, clinic staff members readily describe how they can help facilitate the continued exploitation of his victims. Planned Parenthood fired the employee shown in the first video from New Jersey and dismissed the incident as an aberration. But the same essential conversation has now been repeated at multiple sites. The employee in the second video from Virginia was described as reacting “professionally” for providing the pimp with the same helpful information.
Under the federal anti-trafficking law, any juvenile younger than 18 who is subjected to commercial sexual exploitation is a victim of human trafficking - a victim of modern-day slavery. Under our legal system, no child can consent to engage in prostitution. Similarly, no children who are trapped in a situation of commercial sexual exploitation can give informed consent to undergo an abortion or receive a regime of contraception because of the trauma and manipulation to which they are subjected routinely and constantly. Yet the health care providers in these videos appear all too eager to sign up juvenile victims for both abortions and contraceptives.
To subject a juvenile victim of commercial sexual exploitation to either an abortion or contraception has only one purpose: to sustain her exploitation, and only one beneficiary: the trafficker/pimp. This is why the Live Action videos are so revealing and so shocking. They show health care professionals, employed by a national organization receiving taxpayer funds, who not only do not fulfill their obligation to report to authorities these potential cases of child abuse, but actually are willing to facilitate that abuse.
It is hard to imagine conditions more conducive to the widespread sexual exploitation of American children than those in which health care professionals are willfully ignorant of the sex trafficking in front of their eyes. These videos raise this five-alarm question: If we are just now learning that Planned Parenthood is willing to help actors portraying a sex-trafficking pimp and a prostituted juvenile, isn’t it likely that actual sex traffickers have been using Planned Parenthood clinics for years?
The New Jersey attorney general has opened an investigation into Planned Parenthood based on Live Action’s shocking video evidence, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has just vetoed a bill that would have benefited Planned Parenthood in that state. If Planned Parenthood clinics are willing to aid and abet the sexual exploitation of children, Congress has an obligation to cut off the substantial federal subsidies flowing to the organization.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children is beyond an epidemic in the United States. We urgently need as a society to confront this crisis and undertake every possible measure to find and rescue the victims. We need to stop coddling the pimps and ignoring the “johns” who pay for sex with minors. And any health care provider who is complicit in this exploitation should be held to account.
Steven Wagner is president of the Renewal Forum, a nonprofit group combating U.S. human trafficking, and former head of the Human Trafficking Program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.