How can that be? In part, because of a 20-year-old law that protects internet free speech and, by consequence, websites use for sex trafficking.
HIGHLAND, N.Y. “Research tells us that on any given night in New York state more than 4,000 underage youth are victims of sex trafficking,” said Donna Linder, executive director of Child Find of America. “And we believe it’s far more.”
The Highland-based national organization hopes to alleviate some of their suffering through “collaboration and cooperation” among professionals and law enforcement.
“Making the Connections for New York’s Trafficked Youth” is a day-long conference for professionals, local and state law enforcement agencies and social service providers who serve children who are being exploited or are at risk of exploitation, Linder said.
“We hope the ‘Making the Connections for New York’s Trafficked Youth’ will support collective efforts to end the trafficking of minors and provide young survivors opportunities to heal and recover,” Linder said.
Child Find of America was founded in 1980 by Gloria Yerkovich, the mother of a then missing child from Highland. At the time, according to the organization’s website, little was known or understood about child abduction, which — as was the case with Yerkovich — is often carried out by an estranged parent.
Yerkovich was ultimately reunited with her child, Linder said.
The organization quickly gained name recognition for its milk carton campaign — “Have You Seen This Child?” — featuring photos of missing children. That campaign was halted, Linder said, after prominent pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock advised the group that it might be traumatizing for young children to see missing peers so prominently displayed.
Since then, the organization has served as a national clearinghouse to assist law enforcement in efforts to locate and safely return missing and exploited children, Linder said. They’ve also established May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day.
Its focus has expanded from abducted children to sexually exploited children, but preventing abduction — often by a child’s estranged parent — is still a primary concern.
“We know that it takes a collaborative and cooperative network of professionals, law enforcement, social service providers, educators and local and state agencies to identify and best serve our most vulnerable, at-risk children,” she said.
The organization’s website touts its “greatly expanded” scope since Child Find’s founding. Linder spoke at the 2002 White House Conference on Missing and Exploited Children, and the group’s focus has expanded to “prevention, education, conflict resolution, investigation, information and referral, and support services to families in crisis here in America and internationally in more than a dozen countries,” according to its website.
Linder said a large part of Child Find’s effort to prevent both the exploitation and abduction of children involves family conflict prevention. Divorce, Linder said, increases the likelihood of abduction and, by helping parents have safe and legal access to their children, abductions can be prevented.
Child Find’s Parent Help Hotline, (800) 716-3468, offers free and confidential services to parents in conflict who may fear an abduction is likely, Linder said, and helps families by offering multi-faceted support.
“Parent Help’s skilled professionals assist callers by addressing co-parenting challenges, parental abduction prevention, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect concerns, and parenting styles,” the website states. It offers case management, helps establish custody and visitation plans, builds communication and parenting skills and explores legal options and court system navigation support as well as mediation.
If you “can get them talking,” Linder said of estranged parents, an abduction becomes much less likely.
Additionally, Linder said, the Parent Help location department assists parents in locating missing and abducted children. “My staff is pretty resourceful in some of the techniques they use,” Linder said. “People don’t realize that we can go online too and look at profiles ... somebody always knows something.”
Linder said Child Find’s staff is sometimes willing to step in when local law enforcement is inclined to wait. “‘Don’t worry about it, she’ll come right back,’ police might say,” Linder said, adding that panicked parents are sometimes victimized by private investigators and are sometimes ignored by cops, she said.
“Even if a kid goes willingly, it’s a crime,” she said, pointing to an Iowa case where a child had been abducted by her father and the girl’s mother was getting little help from authorities. Linder said her staff was able to find the child and return her safely to her mother.
To make a tax-deductible donation to Child Find, visit http://childfindofamerica.org/donate/.
For more information about Child Find or to ask for help, email Linder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Child Find of America: Highland-based national group aims to end trafficking of minors Diane Pineiro-Zucker