Washington – Connecticut’s efforts to combat child sex trafficking were hailed Wednesday as a national model for the nation at a congressional hearing promoting a bill that would require states to do more to combat exploitation.

Child sex trafficking is a growing national problem, but states vary on how effectively they identify and protect young victims, officials said.

The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, a bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, invited Tammy Sneed of the state Department of Children and Families to testify how Connecticut’s helps children – often foster youth and runaways — who are sexually exploited.

She pointed to two state laws – one approved in 2010 that bars police from arresting children who are forced to sell themselves for sex. Many states arrest these children as prostitutes.

Connecticut has also adopted another law this year that requires police to contact DCF when they have custody of a potential victim.

Sneed also said Connecticut has begun training police officers, school officials and hospital staff on how to identify and help exploited children. But there’s a weakness in Connecticut’s system.

“The vast majority of victims we know about are female, because we don’t do a good job of identifying males,” Sneed said.

Child trafficking victims often have histories of previous sexual abuse, sometimes starting when a child is only two years old, Sneed said.

Sneed said about 100 child trafficking victims have been identified since the state started counting several years ago.  Ten child sex trafficking victims have been identified so far this year. But the real extent of the child sex trade in Connecticut is unknown .

“It’s scary, but I have no idea,” Sneed said.

Sneed also testified that the use of the internet to sell children for sex “is very high in Connecticut.”

A Loyola University study estimated 293,000 young  Americans are being trafficked specifically for the sex trade.

Saying few law enforcement or state welfare agency agencies are aware of federal anti-child trafficking laws or state laws that protect the rights of victims, a group of child advocates are promoting a bill introduced by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., aimed at strengthening child protections.

The bill would do what Connecticut has already begun to do: provide child welfare employees with guidance on how to identify victims. The bill would also require those agencies to report their policies on combating trafficking to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Tina Frundt , a former child trafficking victim who runs a shelter called Courtney’s House in Washington D.C., said a national response to the problem is needed “because children are running away from a system that’s supposed to protect them.”.

Frundt  said she was rotated through 10 foster homes and sexually abused in each one.

“I was raped, abused and sold for sex on a regular basis,” Frundt said.

She reported the abuse to social workers “but nobody would believe me,” Frundt said.

The victims who live in Courtney’s House have had similar experiences, “and no one believed them, either,” Frundt said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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