Children in foster care are especially vulnerable to being trafficked and exploited. A study in 2012 found that between 50 and 80 percent of CSEC children in California are or were formally involved in the child welfare/foster care system. Foster care children are targeted because of their need for love, affirmation and protection. Foster children dream of belonging to a family even if it means they are forced to endure extreme violence and abuse. Sex traffickers have their victims call them "Daddies". The children are encouraged by traffickers to call themselves "wifies". This reinforces the dysfunctional "family" that the traffickers create to psychologically manipulate their victims.
The average age of entry into sexual exploitation is between 11 and 13 years for boys and 12 to 14 years for girls. It is important that the traffickers begin to groom them when they are young and especially vulnerable. Trafficking rings are often run by gangs. Young gang members are charged with targeting children close to their own ages to join the "family" where they are quickly put to work in the gang's prostitution rings.
Sex trafficking is a $32 billion worldwide industry and is the fastest growing and second largest criminal enterprise in the world. Since San Diego County is a hub for sex traffickers, who frequently move them to Mexico or Las Vegas where they have no connections, many, many children in the foster system here have CSEC histories. Sadly, the numbers of CSEC referrals that Milestone House receives has been steadily increasing over the last decade.