A Judge’s Perspective: Working with Victims of Domestic Child Sex Trafficking

At times, juvenile court judges believe they are case managers, conveners, change agents and system advocates. When we think about commercially sexually exploited children, we must embrace each of these roles, get off the bench and into the community to strengthen our opportunities and obligations. We must assist in the development of comprehensive and collaborative responses to these children’s complicated experiences. 

The traumatic experiences of children who have been commercially sexually exploited require that we work in a way that is truly respectful of their cultural individuality. While these youths may share many common characteristics and behaviors, each of their lives is unique. Our services and supports must provide a measure of flexibility and individual tailoring to maximize their effectiveness. 

All foster youth, and particularly sexually exploited youth, are individuals, with individual experiences, and they are deserving of individual attention. To make a positive and lasting impact, I strive to remember that in addition to assessing and supervising, in addition to professionals talking at them and for them, we need to afford a dedicated space to talk with them. 

There is so much we can learn from these youths if we just create the opportunity to listen. With the consent of their counsel, we can talk directly with every youth about their goals. What do they think about the future? What do they think they need from our collaborative to help them achieve those goals? Unless someone has stood in your shoes, it can be hard to explain what you are going through. That’s why I also make a conscientious effort to engage and include survivors in all our jurisdiction’s efforts. 

This is hard work. As much as I know about domestic child sex trafficking, I am reminded – and humbled – each day about the resiliency and strengths that children and survivors possess, even when such traits are not clear. Children and young adults who have been able to leave “the life” can refine and improve our collective efforts. As current faculty for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, we can all improve our shared efforts to provide stability, safety, and wellbeing for every youth.  

Hon. Stacy Boulware-Eurie
Juvenile Court Presiding Judge, Superior Court of California
Sacramento County, California