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(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a series on human sex trafficking in the U.S.)

Reuters reported just last week, “Some 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude.”

A percentage is represented in all 162 countries, with almost half being in India. And many would be surprised to discover that the U.S. sexual slavery market is growing – in and outside our country – using none other than American minors. Americans trafficking Americans.

ABC News reported in July on a National Geographic undercover investigation of sexual slavery in the U.S.: “When some people hear about sex trafficking in America they usually think of Asian and Eastern European women being brought into the states, but it’s actually 10 times more likely for an American girl to be trafficked inside the U.S. Further, almost 300,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry, according to U.S. Department of State statistics.”

About 14,500 to 17,500 girls from other countries are smuggled into the U.S. and exploited in sexual slavery. The U.S. Department of Justice says that the average age females – domestic and international – start prostitution in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years, and those older than 12 are leading targets for sexual exploitation by organized crime units. The FBI further explains that boys and transgender youth begin prostituting between the ages of 11 and 13 on average.

And where are they all marketed? Most know how they are paraded on the streets by pimps, controlled by violent gangs and organized crime, and marketed through residential brothels and businesses-like strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors, etc. But the greatest and most recent proliferation has been through the Internet.

Malika Saada Saar, the president of The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, explained that there is a “cyber slave market that is being built up by Craigslist and other websites” (like dating and hooking up sites and online escort services), and most who buy and sell these girls are never arrested or jailed.

In July, however, the FBI conducted raids in 76 cities, arrested 150 pimps and rescued 105 children from their sexual and abusive rings – the youngest of whom was only nine years old.

The Blaze reported, “Detroit saw the most pimps arrested, while the largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans.”

The Blaze also noted how 2,700 children have been rescued by the FBI since 2003 under its “Innocence Lost” initiative and since partnering with the nonprofit group the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Moreover, roughly 1,350 convictions of sex traders have been made by the FBI with many with “lengthy sentences” and 10 life sentences.

Back in May of this year, massive national media coverage was given to the rescue of three precious young ladies – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – from their 10-year captivity in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, by a monstrous sexual predator and kidnapper whose name I won’t even mention out of disgust.

As phenomenal as that rescue was, however, Time Editor-at-Large Belinda Luscombe highlighted in her article, “There are sex slaves all over the U.S. right now,” that there are myriad of other sexual slavery cases that are barely given much press at all.

For example, just a month before the Ohio rescue, Charles Ramsey, a repeated domestic abuser, was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison “for sex trafficking a 15-year-old girl. He was part of a multi-state kidnapping and prostitution ring that has victimized hundreds of women and girls since at least 2008.”

And just a week before the Ohio case, seven women were freed and 13 people arrested when another prostitution ring was broken. Most of those women were trafficked through Mexico by men believed to be their boyfriends.

Luscombe asked an important question in her article that is as critical now as it was then: “Why is locking up a woman for one’s own pleasure more newsworthy than locking up a woman in order to pimp her out?”

Jimmy Lee, executive director of RestoreNYC, a shelter for trafficked women, believes he has three possible answers: First, the stigmas of prostitution – if even clearly not by choice, second, “missing white women syndrome” – a sociological phrase referring to how mainstream media dominantly covers missing young white girls or women, and, third, victims’ ethnicity and questionable legal status. (Chong Kim’s story, now put into the award-winning film “Eden,” is proof how ethnic sexual slavery can be easily overlooked and cart victims around the heartland of America without ever being noticed.)

I would add a fourth possible reason: If sexual trafficking victims are boys or young men, we have a tendency to believe they can break the bondages of sexual slavery more easily than girls and, hence, have a greater opportunity to escape the webs of sexual trafficking. But again, nothing could be further from the truth.

The FBI reported, “Today, the business of human sex trafficking is much more organized and violent. These women and young girls [and boys] are sold to traffickers, locked up in rooms or brothels for weeks or months, drugged, terrorized and raped repeatedly. These continual abuses make it easier for the traffickers to control their victims. The captives are so afraid and intimidated that they rarely speak out against their traffickers, even when faced with an opportunity to escape.”

Chong Kim shared just how intense it was during her couple years of captivity: “The first year I was in there, I literally became numb; I thought I was going to die as a sex slave. … When I started to become defiant with the traffickers, the traffickers would look at the girls we were close to, and with that, they would actually tie us to a chair and make us watch the girl that we were close to or the child we were close to get tortured, sodomized and raped for hours and hours on end. We went through beatings, we were held in the bathtub with ice …”

The U.S. Dept. of Justice estimates that of the roughly 450,000 plus U.S. children who run away from home each year, at least one-third of teens end up homeless and lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. This is another reason why it is so imperative the lost are found so quickly.

Shared Hope International, whose mission is to eradicate sex trafficking, has a helpful website with many great resources to help you help others caught in the webs of sexual slavery, including a section where you can view report cards for how your state is doing in response to human trafficking.

The website for the Polaris Project, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working exclusively on the issue of human trafficking, also has a state-by-state map that you can click on and access in-depth local information and resources in your area.

The Polaris Project also provides The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. Call them at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733).

By Internet:

  • To report a tip, click here.
  • To connect with anti-trafficking services in your area, click here.
  • To request training and technical assistance, click here.
  • To obtain specific anti-trafficking resources, click here.

(In Part 2, I will address what specifically entices adolescents and teens to U.S. sexual trafficking, as well as discuss an industry that is perhaps the greatest perpetrator of it and the inspirational story about how one woman escaped it after seven years.)

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