Any child can be a target of sex traffickers, but the ones most vulnerable are those in child welfare and foster care systems.
Madi Palmer, a 17-year-old from Holladay, Utah, is part of a national movement called “Backyard Broadcast” to stop the sexual abuse of children after a scary experience.
Palmer is a senior at Cottonwood High School and spends her time raising awareness about child sex trafficking.
“Most people don't realize it's happening in America, let alone Utah and in our schools and communities,” she said.
Palmer saw the problem through her own eyes two years ago. She posed as a homeless teen on the streets of Cottonwood Heights as part of a project with a non-profit organization. Police and parents watch Palmer from a distance to ensure her safety.
Palmer said a man approached her and offered her a place to stay. When she refused, the man later returned to offer her food. Authorities said that is a common ploy of sex traffickers.
“At the time it didn't seem that scary, but it really is,” Palmer said.
Authorities told Palmer the man drove a car without any identifying logos and the license plates were stolen. He was likely a sex trafficker.
Palmer said the experience made her realize what homeless youth go through. She said she probably would have gone with the man if she didn’t have another option.
According to U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, up to 60 percent of sexually-exploited children are recruited out of the nation’s child welfare and foster care systems. Hatch recently introduced legislation to combat domestic youth sex trafficking.
“We owe these young people better than this,” Hatch said. “This legislation that I am introducing addresses some of the endemic and wide spread conditions in the child welfare and foster care systems that make children and youth particularly vulnerable to being sexually trafficked.”
Hatch’s legislation requires states to show that they have policies in place to identify youth who are believed to be at risk of being trafficked.
“ There’s really not a lot [trafficked teens] can do to get out of it unless an outside force helps them, which is why legislation like this is really necessary,” Palmer said.
Palmer is making a difference at Cottonwood High School through her local chapter of “Backyard Broadcast.” The youth driven movement is aimed at stopping child sex slavery.
A handful of chapters are active at high schools across the Wasatch Front. Palmer said other students plan on launching chapters at Weber State University, University of Utah, Westminster and Brigham Young University within the next few months.
“If you don’t find trafficking in your neighborhood, you're not looking hard enough,” Palmer added.
For more information on joining “Backyard Broadcast” or becoming an ambassador, click here.