WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sexual exploitation of children has grown to record levels and the growth has gone mostly undetected, according to a study released Monday. The report estimates that approximately 326,000 children in the United States are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Richard J. Estes, the report's main author, said much of the exploitation is done by family members, friends and acquaintances of the children.
``We always told kids not to talk to or take candy from strangers. That's still good advice but we need to make them aware about everything,'' he said. The report was issued by the National Association of Social Workers and the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work. Estes, a professor of social work at the University of Pennsylvania, said that many youth involved in commercial sexual activities had been victims of sexual abuse at home. He said 40 percent of girls and approximately 30 percent of the boys on the street who are doing prostitution had been victims of sexual abuse at home.
Most of the children in the study were white youths who had run away from middle-class homes. Less than a quarter of the children in the report were from impoverished homes, Estes said. The study titled ``The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico'' found gaps in policies and services intended to combat sexual exploitation of children and help the victims.
For the project, researchers selected 28 cities in the three countries, based on their size and for being known as having problems with the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Seventeen cities were chosen in the United States. The researchers examined public records and interviewed about 1,000 children, law enforcement officials, and human services groups. They used previous data and field research from 288 federal and local agencies to extrapolate their findings to the U.S. population.
``This looks like it's the most comprehensive study yet,'' Eva Klain, of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, told USA Today in Monday's editions. The study found that 95 percent of the commercial sex that boys engaged in was with men, and it found that at least 25 percent of girls in gangs had sex with other members as part of the gang rites. Married men who have children of their own are one of the most common customers who pay the children for sex, Estes said.
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