January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, which provides an opportunity to shine a light on this prevalent problem and the response that the Cumberland County Children’s Advocacy Center (CCCAC) at Spurwink is providing for youth that experience this form of victimization. Sex trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation occurs when a sex act is provided in exchange for money, food, shelter, drugs, protection, or anything of value for the child. The most common age that youth are first exploited in this manner is between 11-13. Many youths are not willing or able to share their experiences due to manipulation and control that their exploiter has over them, making it especially difficult to identify these youth. Nationally it is recognized that a multi-disciplinary team approach is most effective in meeting the needs of these complex youth. The CCCAC, with grant support, hired a coordinator who identifies and convenes a team of providers including law enforcement, child protective services, clinicians, correctional officers, and medical providers to discuss and triage the needs of the youth who are confirmed to be or are at high risk of exploitation. The CCCAC has provided a multi disciplinary response to 71 youth and is currently following 30 youth that are being trafficked or suspected to be trafficked in Cumberland County.
The CCCAC continues to collaborate with Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA), to raise statewide awareness about this form of maltreatment and develop a multidisciplinary response in all counties. Jennifer Shumway, LMSW, CC, CCCAC CSEC coordinator, testified in March of this year, at a legislative hearing in favor of LD 1092, “An Act to Prevent the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the State”, which proposed funding for additional CSEC coordinators in the State. The funding portion of the bill did not pass but one result was the development of a statewide committee tasked with making recommendations to address the prevention of and response to commercial sexual exploitation of children in Maine. The CCCAC staff have joined this committee which is chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services and MECASA.
Additionally, the CCCAC participates in two national groups that were formed this year; a CSEC cohort for the northeast region that is facilitated by the Northeast children’s Advocacy Center with a focus on sharing trends, cross jurisdiction challenges and resources and the National Childrens Alliance CSEC collaborative workgroup which is tasked with establishing best practice in serving this vulnerable population.
In response to the growing problem of online exploitation the CCCAC has focused this year on creating online safety and prevention materials for parents and youth. We are currently exploring a collaboration with the Department of Education to offer this information to parents in an equitable and accessible manner.
This important work is supported from the following funders: United Way of Southern Maine, Maine Community Foundation and MECASA.