Sex trafficking, often thought to be a third-world problem, where women and girls, victimized by war and poverty, are forced into sexual slavery and sold as chattel. However, the problem is just as real in America, and this week, two separate reports from two separate coasts reveal just how widespread the problem is.
In Fresno, California, women and children are bought and sold “every day,” according to the Fresno Bee. So widespread is the problem that one police officer, who asked not to be identified, said that no teenager in Fresno County is immune to the reach of “recruiters.”
“I’d bet every 16-year-old girl in Fresno has received a message that they didn’t know was from a recruiter.”
And while the vast majority of sex trafficking victims come from abusive homes, or homes beset by poverty, or both. recruiters just as easily target girls from comfortable, middle-class homes. Pretending to be boyfriends who are interested, traffickers seek to lure the girls into a false sense of security.
“They’re recruited while sitting next to their parents in the living room. Mom or dad may be reading the newspaper or watching TV while she’s on her phone.”
Once recruited, the women and girls find themselves forced into prostitution, either in Fresno or sent away to larger human-trafficking centers such as The Bay Area or Las Vegas.
Other girls are already prostituting themselves before being coerced into sexual slavery. The unnamed Fresno detective said that middle school girls will perform sex acts for money because “their moms wouldn’t give them money to go to the mall.” Pimps take notice and try to recruit the girls. When that doesn’t work, they pay thugs to beat and rape the girls, then offer them “protection” if they join him.
Over in Buffalo, sex-trafficking rings have targeted young girls from abusive homes, according to WGRZ.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said that she was raped at a young age, and that her trafficker “took advantage” of her background to further abuse her.
Fortunately, the woman was able to escape her captivity and turn her life around. She’s lucky: the average woman or girl who goes into prostitution is dead within seven years.
Combating the problem has proved easier said than done. In Buffalo, the victim’s pimp was caught and imprisoned. But an investigation squad in the city currently still has 100 cases open involving sexual exploitation of children.
In California, the law is trying to help out. Some underage victims of sex trafficking are reluctant to seek help, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is fear of being prosecuted for prostitution. To this end, Golden State lawmakers have changed the law so that every person under 18 who engages in prostitution is treated as a victim, not a criminal.
Still, once a woman or girl is rescued from sexual slavery, her ordeal is far from over. Years of counseling and legal advice are in order, as are housing, job skills, and food. That responsibility often falls on woefully-understaffed nonprofit organizations. What’s more, employers often refuse to hire such women, viewing them as criminals.
Regardless, Debra Rush, founder of the nonprofit Breaking the Chains, says that addressing the problem of human trafficking is crucial.
“That girl in high school or college will become that crackhead on [skid row], talking to herself, pushing something down the street, turning tricks for $5. That’s what happens unless something knocks them off that trajectory.”