Sex Trafficking Affects Our Children

By Sue Pascoe

Rotary District Governor Cozette Vergari told Palisades Rotarians on July 27 that their organization’s mission of eradicating polio was almost complete. Last year, only eight cases were reported in the world.

But then she brought sobering news about an even worse issue now facing children. “There is a real problem in our own back yard—sexploition, trafficking,” Vergari said, noting the average age of a child being used is 13, and that the average life expectancy after a child is dragged into that life is just seven years.

Vergari, an attorney, who is a partner at Vergari & Napolitano, said that rotary has been working to raise awareness of the issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains the health hazards these girls face:

“Sex trafficking victims are particularly susceptible to sexually transmitted infec- tions such as gonorrhea, syphilis, urinary tract infections and pubic lice. AIDS infection is known to be prevalent. They may experience pelvic pain, vaginal/anal tearing, rectal trauma, and/or urinary difficulties. Sex trafficking victims are often physically abused and tortured.”

Researchers say girls rescued from pimps may have broken bones, bruises, burns, scars and broken teeth/dental problems.“A history of concussions and head trauma should also be taken to screen for traumatic brain injury, which may result in memory loss, dizziness, headaches and numbness,” said the NCBI.

Food deprivation is often a problem, and girls may also face an “unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape and prostitution, sterility, miscarriage, menstrual problems, mutilations and forced or coerced abortions.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California and Nevada are the top states per capita in trafficking cases in the United States. Vergari, who oversees 62 rotary clubs, pointed out that many people don’t know the problem exists here—they think it’s mostly in countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Another misconception is that all trafficked kids are runaways, abused or homeless, when in reality many victims come from middle-class families.

In an article in NorthWest magazine, a mom said: “You warn them about the boogeyman and you warn them about the dangers of crossing the street without holding an adult’s hand when they’re younger, and you talk about the dangers of texting while driving. These are the things that you are worried about when your children are growing up.”

The mom, Nacole, who didn’t want her last name used, continued: “I don’t think the thought ever crossed my mind that I’d have to warn my daughter about being a child sex slave.”

She that her daughter, 15, was a star soccer player and a violinist and came from a typical suburban home. Nevertheless, she ran away from home, leaving a note saying that she loved her family—that they had nothing wrong, but that she needed to find herself.

The Seattle police found the teen two weeks later. She had been held captive, raped and had been made to work the streets. 

Vergari told Rotary Club members, “Thirty percent of those children recruited are from intact families and are found through the Internet. When children try to get away they are beaten or drugged.”

Ark of Hope for the Children, an organization working to stop sex trafficking, cited the following statistics:

  • Human trafficking has surpassed the sale of illegal arms.
  • Human trafficking will surpass the illegal sale of drugs within the next few years. (Vergari said that a pimp can make $100,000 to $150,000 a year per child.)
  • Victims of child trafficking are used over and over again.
  • About 300,000 Americans under the age of 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year and between 14,500-17,500 victims are 11 to 14 years of age.
  • Sex trafficking is an estimated $32-to- $42-billion-a-year industry and found in all 50 states.
  • Nearly two-thirds of children sold for sex in the United States are sold online.
  • Worldwide, woman and girls make up 98 percent of the exploited victims.

Phil Martin, national director of Compassion 2 One, which works to educate and rescue children, said “If a guy has a hotel room, he’s got three to four girls working between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and he’s charging anywhere from $200 to $250 per sex act. The girl is going to service six to seven guys a night; do that for 30 days and the guy is a millionaire because you know she’s not keeping any of the money.”

In November 2015, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell launched a Human Trafficking Task Force at the Sherman Block Building in Monterey Park.

“We will encourage prosecutors to have buyers of sex with children treated as child molesters,” McDonnell said. “We will also develop new approaches aimed at rescuing young victims. Pure and simple, human trafficking is the cruel dhumanizing exploitation of the most vulnerable in our community.”

In February, a KTLA story reported that a statewide task-force operation involving 30 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies made 474 arrests (142 for solicitation) and 36 males were arrested on suspicion of pimping. Twenty-eight sexually exploited children and 27 adult victims were rescued.

A July 27 L.A. Daily News story reported that a ring in California and Nevada involved 13 victims, including eight minors.

“Years ago, a human trafficking case of this magnitude was not likely,” Sheriff McDonnell said in a news conference after the rescue.“ The predators online that are looking for an 11-year-old . . . these people are not the traditional johns that most people think of. These are child molesters that are out there taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable in society.”

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux urged parents to watch their children careully, especially when they are on mobile phones.“Pay attention to what your children are doing online,” he said. “Social networking is an environment for predators to prey on and exploit the innocence of our children.”

Shared Hope International, a group that is working to eradicate worldwide sex trafficking, writes: “Pimps are continually trolling the Internet posing as a teen girl or boy interested in friendship. The relationship is developed without threat until the unsuspecting child agrees to meet them.”

According to a City News Service story in June, enforcement officials said they are focused on sex trafficking on the streets and online and that deputies no longer arrest minors for prostitution, but instead target customers for arrest.

There have been hundreds of arrests, but “The more we look, the more we find,” said Captain Chris Marks, who leads the sheriff ’s Human Trafficking Bureau.

For more information on helping, email Vergari at cozetterotary5280

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