YUMA, Ariz. – It’s a modern form of human slavery plaguing cities in the desert southwest and across the nation, human sex trafficking. It’s a heinous crime targeting and exploiting the most vulnerable people in our society. According to the Arizona Human Trafficking Council less than 2% of victims are ever identified and the average age of entry into the dark world of the sex trade is just 14.
“When I was 15 was the first time I sold my body for money to survive…This is the wickedest evil I’ve ever seen, take somebody’s child and brand them sell their bodies so someone else can live a life”, says Arizona resident Carolyn Jones. Jones survived after being a victim of human trafficking for more than 20 years in what she describes as a very violent lifestyle, “I got shot by a guy that picked me up, i got stabbed by a guy that picked me up”. Today she works with organizations, such as Streetlight USA [http://www.streetlightusa.org], to spread awareness of the evils of sex trafficking to try and save other young girls from the pain she still endures, “You stay in the process of healing, you stay in the process of growing to get out of a life style that was normal for so long”.
Human Trafficking is the world’s second most lucrative crime, surpassed only by drug trafficking. The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. “In the U.S. alone we estimate 325,000 american children and adults are at risk of exploitation”, says Special Agent Louie Garcia. Agent Louie Garcia is the Special Agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement out of Phoenix and deals with many human trafficking cases. He says sex traffickers get their victims in many different ways using force, fraud and coercion. ICE warns that it can happen at schools, at a club, in your neighborhood and perhaps most of all on the internet. “Pimps use the internet extensively to monitor traffic and identify potential victims”, explains Agent Garcia. Just a simple search on the world wide web and you’d easily find numerous escort posts selling sex. “For the Yuma area you’ll see many pages selling sex, back rubs, massages and many acts related to trafficking”, says Agent Garcia.
Even boyfriends or close relationships can lead to sex trafficking, that’s what happened to Arizona resident Lorna Jackson who says she got into the sex trade at the age of 15. “One of my first boyfriends kind of coerced me into prostituting”, says Jackson. The National Center for biotechnology Information says Victims of human trafficking are more likely to develop an addiction to drugs and suffer mental illness. “Drinking alcohol, smoking pot all to numb the shame and pain I had inside”, explained Jackson.
And sometimes this lifestyle is fatal, Carolyn Jones says she sought help after seeing many of her friends that were also being trafficked die, “That’s the only reason I’m sitting here now it took them to die for me to live”.
ICE says these victims could potentially be anyone of any race or background. “Usually these victims are our daughters our nieces and nephews and our grandchildren”, explains Agent Garcia.
“Society deems us the lowest woman in the world but we are somebody’s mothers we are somebody’s sisters we are somebody’s daughters. This evil is different it don’t care who it hurts”, says Jones.
If you are a victim of human trafficking in Yuma you can turn to The Healing Journey for help, they are leading the fight to create a task force specifically for human trafficking cases. “I want to get this started in the next couple of months get everybody together and discuss this issue before it really does get out of hand”, says Healing Journey Director Estrella Fitch. “There is hope, there is a way out. They are not alone but feel lonely and they feel they don’t have no way out I felt that same way”, says Jones. “It’s evil i mean the statistics alone for trafficked women is alarming”, adds Agent Garcia.
When we asked Agent Garcia if he thinks society can win the “war” on human trafficking he responded, “Yes I do, It takes everybody the federal governments, the states, communities and citizens. I would hope if they see something they’ll say something”.
“We have a long way to go but we are open to fighting the issue now, for that i’m grateful”, says Jones.
If you are a victim of human trafficking there is a toll free hotline you can call for help, that number is 1-888-373-7888. If you see suspicious activity that you feel may be related to human trafficking you are encouraged to report it to law enforcement, your help may save a life.