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June 2012: Child Exploitation in Gangs

A little discussed corner in the business of commercial exploitation of minors involves the sexual exploitation of young girls by gangs. Although many of our towns and cities have seen an overall reduction in violent crime, gang violence is reportedly on the rise in many communities, and gang members have discovered there is money to be made in human trafficking and prostitution.

Local and national street and motorcycle gangs and criminal organizations have become prime perpetrators of this business. Both male and female gang members recruit children into “the life” using both smooth-talking and coercive methods. The consequences for the girls can be devastating: disease, pregnancy, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder, just to name a few. Plus, some girls never really recover from the trauma of violent sexual exploitation. Though some may go on to outwardly live productive lives, inside the very core of their self-identity has been destroyed.

Comprehensive research documenting the number of children engaged in prostitution in the United States is lacking, though estimates are that some 293,000 American youths currently are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.1 What are the factors that put a young girl at risk for such exploitation? A history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse; a lack of healthy relationships with adults; substance abuse; and a record of running away from home.

This month’s Missing and Exploited Children’s Program (MECP) newsletter shines a light on the disturbing issue of child sexual exploitation by gangs. Our first article recaps MECP’s very informative June webinar on the subject, then lists a variety of national resources and services available to criminal justice practitioners on the front line. Our second article provides a roadmap for agencies pondering ways to address big problems including child sexual exploitation in their communities. Through this discussion we hope to break through the gangs’ code of silence and redouble our efforts to help those who have gotten caught in a vicious web of manipulation, intimidation, and degradation.


Sexual Exploitation of Girls in Gangs

Criminal justice practitioners play a crucial role in identifying the victims of sexual exploitation by gangs. On June 20, 2012, MECP hosted a webinar on the sexual exploitation of girls by gangs. Presented by Keith G. Burt, retired deputy district attorney and former Chief of the Gang Prosecution Division in San Diego County, Calif., , the webinar provided an overview of the prevalence of gangs and their criminal activities across America. Mr. Burt described the reasons why youth join gangs and the ways in which the media glamorize gang culture through movies, music and videos. Mr. Burt’s findings come from his vast background in gang investigations, prosecution and his experience in conducting gang’s assessments in several U.S. cities.

Mr. Burt explained why girls become involved in gangs and how their fellow gang members exploit them. He described how male gang members sexually exploit their sisters, cousins, girlfriends and “squares.”That is, girls of middle and high school age who cut classes and prostitute themselves on a part-time basis as “employees” of gang pimps — and how female gang members also engage in the procurement process.

Mr. Burt was particularly concerned about the commercial sexual exploitation of girls by gangs. He explained that a gun or drug is basically a one-time sale, where the selling of sexual services can become a lucrative ongoing enterprise for gangs.

To hear the recording of this webinar and view the speaker’s PowerPoint presentation, please click here.


Additional resources on this topic can be found at:

National Gang Center: The National Gang Center conducts research about gang members and their activities, analyzes the data, and publishes its findings. The Center provides training and technical assistance to law enforcement on regarding gang investigations and gang unit supervison; and training to communities on prevention and intervention programs and strategies. Please visit the National Gang Center website for information on these and other training and technical assistance resources and services.

National Alliance of Gang Investigators’ Association (NAGIA): NAGIA specializes in helping criminal justice professionals develop strategies for identifying gang-related child exploitation cases. Please visit NAGIA to find contact information for your regional gang investigators’ association.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI gathers up-to-date information and statistics on gangs and gang activities, including the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, coordinates anti-gang initiatives and partnerships, and provides case support. Please click here for more information about the ways in which the FBI can assist you in your anti-gang operations.


Planning and Developing a Multi-Agency Response

The following article was written by Jonathan Cloud, a consultant specializing in program management and community-youth strategic planning, who has helped communities nationwide develop effective multi-agency responses to locally based problems. We hope this article helps you plan and implement an effective approach to addressing your local needs and concerns. By Jonathan I. Cloud, Expert in program management and community-youth strategy planning and implementation.

Look Before You Leap

The well-known adage, “Look before you leap,” has to be taken to heart when it comes to planning and developing a multi-agency response to any community problem. The “leap” is especially difficult, however, when it comes to the nexus between gangs and missing and exploited children. You can build a solid foundation for a well-designed multi-agency response if you follow some time-honored tips.

Reasoned or Reactive

A reasoned rather than reactive approach requires having a mental model that will keep your efforts methodical. A sample is provided below.

Enlisting and organizing agencies for action is not the first step. Sometimes we rush into starting up a coalition, task force or partnership without sufficient preparation. We assume that, because the problem is big, we must need a lot of people to come together to do something big about it. So, a big meeting is convened!

One danger in this approach is that you may spend months talking about the problem and never develop a common agenda2 that allows agencies to agree on: 1) what they will do and how they will measure it; 2) how they will do it and how they will measure the results; and 3) how they will share data for mutual benefit.3 If you follow the steps outlined in the mental model shown above, you will greatly improve your chances for success.


The aim of assessment is to examine the problem and do so with enough depth to establish some baseline measures. For example, a review of child exploitation cases may reveal that 72% of kids had been reported as runaways prior to their involvement in commercial sexual exploitation. Data trends in this area would be used as a baseline measure. In this way, data is used to set the agenda,4 not who shows up for the first few meetings.


Staying with the runaway example, working to prevent first-time runaways from doing so again could be a good target for preventing sexual exploitation. The ideal result of the assessment team’s work is an assessment report. It doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, several pages are better than burying your colleagues in paper. Next, a planning team can be useful. This team’s job is to use the assessment information to develop an initial position paper. This document basically says: 1) this is what we see; 2) this is our explanation of it; and 3) this is our approach to doing something about it. (Of course, the approach may change as the effort matures.)

Organize and Plan

Now you are ready to leap. Be sure to consider existing partnerships or coalitions. When the targets of change are identified, it is much clearer which agencies are needed. In other words, the targets of change define the composition of the partnership. Once in place, various projects can be planned to respond to the problem. The structure can include: 1) champions (top-level leaders with influence and power); 2) action teams or work groups (to plan and carry out projects); 3) a management team (to make decisions and guide the effort); and 4) an evaluation team (to handle technical tasks related to monitoring and evaluating).

Implement and Evaluate

Now action needs to be taken to carry out the projects. With good monitoring and data collection systems in place, progress toward measurable change can be tracked. Successful implementation is based on several factors, including: 1) continuing to communicate the mission (go back to your position paper); 2) carefully supporting top-level leaders; 3) regularly reviewing your schedule of activities and making adjustments as necessary; 4) consulting regularly with all of your partners; and 5) celebrating small wins.6 These implementation factors can be used as the basis for evaluating your performance. The baseline data discussed above (see “Assess”) will form the basis for evaluating outcomes. The resulting strong performance will get you to good outcomes.


APSAC Celebrates a Quarter Century of Progress at the Annual Colloquium

This year, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) celebrates 25 years of helping juvenile justice professionals to protect children and families. APSAC is a national nonprofit organization comprised of a multidisciplinary group of practitioners whose mission is to provide expert training, policy leadership and collaboration, and consultant services based on theoretically sound evidence-based principles.

APSAC’s Quarter Century of Progress was commemorated at its annual colloquium on June 27-30 in Chicago, Ill. At the colloquium, APSAC brought together professionals from across the spectrum — medicine, mental health, law, law enforcement, education, prevention, research, advocacy, child protection services, and allied fields — to foster professional excellence in the field of child maltreatment by providing interdisciplinary professional education. This year, APSAC offered 95 institutes and workshops on prevention, assessment, intervention, and treatment of victims, perpetrators and families affected by physical, sexual and psychological abuse and neglect. Some conference highlights include the Russian-American child welfare forum, which was designed to further the development of Russian-American dialogue and partnership in resolving issues related to national and international child protection, and the Advanced Institute on Sexual Behavior Problems, which focused on the sexualized behavior of youth of all ages and current models of intervention. Practitioners learned how to identify problem behavior and what the research on risk assessment tells us about this population of youth. To view session handouts from the colloquium, please click here.

For more on APSAC, upcoming training events, and conference highlights, please visit them online at https://apsac.memberclicks.net/.


Request Training and Technical Assistance from MECP

OJJDP’s Missing and Exploited Children’s Program offers training and technical assistance tailored to the specific needs of local, state and tribal law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and other juvenile justice practitioners. If you are interested in learning how your agency or organization can receive training and technical assistance on this month’s topic, child exploitation by gangs, please contact MECP.

For information on training and technical assistance opportunities on missing and exploited children’s issues, contact MECP at 1-888-347-5610 or [email protected]. To submit a request for training and technical assistance, please complete a training and technical assistance form.


MECP’s Third Wednesdays @ 2:00 P.M. Webinar Series

Please stay tuned for our next MECP monthly webinar. For more information about the event and registration, please visit the Distance Learning Center.



1. Estes, R.J., and N.A. Weiner, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Executive Summary (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2001).

2. Hanleybrown, F., J. Kania, and M. Kramer, Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work,Stanford Social Innovation Review (2012), p. 1.

3. Kramer, M., M. Parkhurst, and L. Vaidyanathan, Breakthroughs in Shared Measurement and Social Impact, FSG Social Impact Advisors (July 2009), p. 12.

4. Jolin, M., P. Schmitz, and W. Seldon, Needle-Moving Community Collaboratives: A Promising Approach to Addressing America’s Biggest Challenges, The Bridgespan Group (Feb 2012).

5. See Analyzing Outcome Information: Getting the Most From Data, Series on Outcome Management for Nonprofit Organizations (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2004).

6. Pinto, J.K., and D.P. Slevin, Balancing Strategy and Tactics in Project Implementation, Sloan Management Review (1987), pp. 33–41.