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One local mom’s nightmare after daughter is victim of sex trafficking

 

Last updated 7/3/2017 at Noon



Editor’s note: The names of those involved have been changed to protect the innocent.

Recruitment into Child Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSEC) is happening at San Diego County high schools. According to a National Institute of Justice study* conversations were held with 140 County School administrators and staff from 20 schools in North County, South County, East County and Central San Diego. All schools confirmed that recruitment was happening on their campuses.

If you’re a parent, there are few things scarier or more heart-breaking than finding out your daughter or son is the victim in the dangerous dark underworld of sex trafficking and prostitution. It’s not just a problem outside the country, or in big cities, it is a huge problem, even for good families, locally. While children in the child welfare system are targeted, there are many beautiful girls from nice, middle class families who get lured and tricked into this deadly lifestyle. So, who is a target? First of all, anyone with access to social media.

Sgt. Matt Blumenthal from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department of Human Trafficking Task Force had this to say, “Social media is one of the greatest tools traffickers use to find, exploit, and turn young girls away from their families to the prostitution life. Whether it be through exploitation of the youth with naked photos, hidden communication with girls behind their parent's backs, or slowly gaining their trust over time, the social media sites are a hot bed of recruitment. It is extremely rampant.”

Do nice girls from good families get caught in this?

“Some of the recruited girls do come from foster homes or juvenile hall, or are runaways and displaced youth. I'm sure many of them have been documented in one way or another in the Child Welfare Services system. On the other hand, some of the trafficked girls come from ‘normal’ lives and families too,” he said.

A Polaris study “The Typology of Modern Slavery Defining Sex and Labor Trafficking in the United States” describes the recruitment of young people.

“Recruitment Victims may be tricked into a situation through fraudulent job offers, such as fake modeling contracts. Traffickers may also recruit victims by pretending to have a romantic interest in the victim or falsely promising that they can provide shelter, financial support or other benefits.”

Locally, one activist has heard of instances where parties are used to recruit or outright kidnap young people. Drugs may be a factor in this tactic as well.

This is one mom’s nightmare.

***

“Social media had just become a very popular thing when our daughter was a junior in high school. Her phone was given to her to stay in touch with friends and family, and in case of an emergency, she could contact us immediately,” explained Nancy. “Never in our lifetime did we ever think that the phone would open a door to the most evil people who are out there just waiting to prey on our children. Everything had seemed to be going well with my daughter’s life. She had plenty of friends, just graduated from high school, and had a family who truly supported her in every way.

“During summer, right after graduation, my daughter was invited to stay with some family for a few weeks. While she was there, she was in touch with someone she met online, someone who posed as a friend, who made her feel special and feel like he could not live without her, that he was truly falling in love with her,” she continued. “He made promises of how happy he would make her, buying her top of the line exotic cars, and purchasing designer clothing and accessories for her. They would travel the world and live happily ever after.”

Nancy’s daughter did not share her conversations with her parents or the fact that she was speaking with someone she had met online.

“Afterwards, we found out this person was in contact with my daughter almost 24/7,” Nancy said. “The text messages were constant. If it wasn’t him texting her, it was a ‘friend’ of his telling her she should come and meet him in person, and the sooner the better. Our daughter was brainwashed. She fell for his lies. She ran away. We were devastated and our lives went from nearly perfect to Hell!"

“We had enough of our wits together to start using the internet to search for clues as to where to begin to look for her. We were in a panic. Something told me to get our phone bill and start calling numbers,” she said.

There were so many numbers on her daughter’s phone bill, but one with a 702 area code kept popping up.

“We did not have family that lived in Vegas, or even have friends that had a 702 area code. Immediately I contacted the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the captain that answered the phone at that moment was the exact angel that I needed,” Nancy explained. “He heard the desperation in my voice and as he tried to calm me down he said that thousands of children end up on the streets in Vegas and that he was going to do everything in his power to help me find my daughter.”

Within minutes, Nancy received a call from a vice detective who asked her “all kinds of questions.” And with all those questions, all she could answer was what she saw on the phone bill since her daughter did not share that she had met a stranger online.

“Our daughter was lost in more ways than one. She completely forgot everything that we taught her while she was growing up – you know, the usual don’t talk to strangers,” Nancy said. “We were a very tight knit family. My husband and I have been married for over 20 years. We have two children and what we thought was a very happy home. The detective said you typically find girls on the street from broken homes. It’s not very common to have a runaway from a home where there is a mom and dad. We could not believe this was happening to our family and still did not know where our daughter was exactly. She definitely was not using her phone to contact us.”

Nancy made a few more phone calls to all kinds of nonprofit organizations that focus on runaways.

“A few said, ‘Well, she is 18 and a legal adult so there is nothing we can do.’ 18? Legal adult? Are you kidding me? She just got her driver's license two years ago, she just graduated from high school...legal adult never entered my mind,” Nancy said. “She was my baby and she is missing!

“I found my second angel – a woman at a nonprofit organization in Las Vegas who felt my pain and said that she was going to put our information in her system even though my daughter was 18. She had fliers printed out and sent out the message of a missing person to all the bus stations, train station, airport, taxi services and even the casinos,” Nancy said. “We finally had some help in our search.”

Nancy and her husband left everything and immediately drove to Las Vegas.

“We met with so many people and cried with strangers, begging anyone and everyone for information in case they might have seen our daughter,” she said. “The police had told us that it was unusual to see parents searching the streets for their children. We were surprised to hear that because why wouldn’t you go look for your children? We were standing on the strip handing out flyers and screaming her name.”

One man came up to Nancy and her husband and said that he had seen their daughter at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

“We ran there and did not see our daughter anywhere,” Nancy said. “A woman came up to us and said she had seen our daughter in another hotel but wanted us to know that she was ‘working’ WORKING? Our hearts dropped once again but we didn’t care, we just wanted to find her and bring her home.

“That man that had promised my daughter the world was a pimp and his ‘friend’ that was also texting my daughter was his ‘bottom bitch’ – his recruiter. It is her job to talk the girls into leaving everything behind for a glamorous life,” Nancy said.

With the help of the detectives, Nancy and her husband were able to find their daughter who told them that when she met this guy after landing in Vegas, he asked her, “What dress did you bring?” She said, “I didn’t bring a dress, why do I need a dress?”

“Thank God she was safe and still in the Vegas area. We were lucky,” Nancy explained. “Some girls are taken to Vegas only to be sold and taken out of state to other countries to be sex slaves. Our story is hard. I never thought this would ever happen to us. My advice to anyone is to be active in your kid’s phone conversations, texts messages, internet use. They are quick to download apps and there are apps that look innocent but are not. There are predators of all different ages, colors and even sex. These people don’t care about anyone, they don’t care about our children, they just want money so that they can continue to buy themselves whatever they want at our children expense.”

The aforementioned Polaris study described the type of prostitution this daughter was being tricked into as Escort Services, which are “sold” mostly through internet sites such as Backpage.com. The owner of Backpage was just arrested on charges related to aiding trafficking, however, the site is still active.

There are more than 20 million victims of human trafficking globally and there have been over 31,660 cases identified on a U.S. trafficking hotline.

“Escort Services” is a broad term used widely in the commercial sex trade, referring to commercial sex acts that primarily occur at a temporary indoor location. The operations are often described as “outcall,” where traffickers deliver victims to a buyer’s hotel room or residence for “private parties,” or as “in-call,” where potential buyers cycle in and out of a hotel room where the trafficker has confined the victim for extended stays.

These cyclical business operations repeat once the trafficker relocates the survivor to another city where the demand for commercial sex is booming. Over the years, there have been fluctuations in popular online advertising platforms for commercial sex, but the most prevalent online marketplace is Backpage.com.

Though Backpage closed its U.S. Adult Services section in January 2017 due to rising pressure from the U.S. Senate, Backpage has accounted for more than 1,300 cases of trafficking within escort services and remains a driving force in global sexual exploitation.

Methods of Control

Extreme physical and sexual violence, often accompanied by weapons, is a common method of control, as is coercion in the form of unmanageable quotas, debts, threats of harm or police involvement, excessive monitoring, gang intimidation, social isolation and constant surveillance. Traffickers often condition victims to believe they are the only ones who care for them, manipulating an attachment bond that makes the decision to leave the trafficker extremely difficult.

But is this really happening locally?

Child Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSEC)

According to the groundbreaking study, “Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego” published by The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Recruitment into CSEC is happening at San Diego County high schools.

“We held conversations with 140 County School administrators and staff from 20 schools in North County, South County, East County and Central San Diego. All schools confirmed that recruitment was happening on their campuses. Eighteen of the 20 Schools confirmed CSEC cases on their combined campuses; all 20 confirmed suspected cases. Our findings confirm previous studies showing that young people most vulnerable to CSEC are those who experience abuse and neglect in the home, are runaways or homeless, identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and /or Questioning, and experience mental health issues and/or trauma. Gang members actively recruit by “swooping in” on newcomers to school; enticing vulnerable children with material and emotional support. In addition, many youth are recruited explicitly by family members who force them into CSEC, or implicitly by family members who are themselves pimps/facilitators or prostituted individuals and for whom “the life” is a way of life.”

According to interviews, clients of commercial sex come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds. The demand for commercial sex is widespread, buoyed by cultural acceptance and perceived impunity.

*From the groundbreaking study, “Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego” The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), has been a leader in the United States in funding and commissioning research on trafficking issues. This project was supported by Award No. 2012-R2-CX-0028, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this study are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice. In addition, members of the San Diego County Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council supported the study.

 

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