It’s become one of the fastest growing viruses on today’s society. It’s a commodity with a better return than drugs and organized crime members, as well as gangs, are seeing their profits soaring. Many of these groups, whose main commodity was drug sales, are now realizing that selling drugs is a one-time shot and done but prostitutes, both male and female, can be sold over and over again generating about $32 billion a year in human sex trafficking. Most who fall prey by kidnapping or running away are brainwashed into thinking this is the only way to survive.
And estimated 100-300,000 children are commercially sexually exploited in the United States. Forty percent of all forced prostitutes are children. The average age an American girl first become a prostitute is 13, an American boy, 12 — but there is no such thing as a child prostitute. No child suddenly wakes up at the age of 10 or 12 and makes the decision to sell their bodies.
These children are victims of a trade that is growing at an alarming rate across the United States and it’s happening right here in Mesquite. On Friday, April 27, Mesquite Police Department held a conference on the topic of human sex trafficking, organized and hosted by Katelyn Taylor and Kimberly Otero. The conference had four speakers who talked about how it begins, how it affects all of us and how we can help prevent or stop it in our community.
The first step in overcoming anything is to educate one’s self on the subject and, according to one St. George, Utah, father, Todd Ellis, “Don’t think it can’t possibly ever happen to you. I thought that way at one time too but I was wrong. I live in that quiet, protected community where nothing ever happens. I’ve got friends, neighbors and church members; we were safe in our own little world. Reality hit about a year ago when my daughter went to Vegas with some friends and came up missing.”
After 18 days and 17 nights of searching, 369 hours of intelligence gathering, traveling 1,614 miles through three states, eight SERT operators snatched her back out of the hell that was her reality; human sex slavery.
She was one of the lucky ones, many never escape.
SERT is an acronym for “Search, Evangelize, Rescue and Train,” which is exactly what ex-Marine, ex-police officer and now Pastor Rudy Gonzalez, his wife Lori and daughter Madeline are doing. Gonzalez and his team are dedicated, fearless and they work right here in this community.
You’re thinking to yourself right now, “This can’t be, but it’s true,” according to Lori Gonzalez who says that one of the major sex trade websites that has been recently shut down, backpage.com, included quite a few people from Mesquite.
Websites like backpage.com and others have been shut down since April 6 when President Donald Trump signed the controversial FOSTA/SESTA bill into law, paving the way for more law enforcement actions against websites that facilitate prostitution.
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children are different than Sexual Exploitation.
Sexual Exploitation means a victim trades sex to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter but are not under the control of a pimp. CSEC involves a pimp or a trafficker. The average age a child become involved in CSEC is 12.
An average age means there are children much younger included in those statistics; one agency, reported a 6-year-old according to Michelle Guymon, Director of the Child Trafficking Unit with the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
You’re asking yourself right now, “How does something like this begin, and so young?”
Over 1.5 million children run away from home each year and one in three of them will be picked up by a pimp within 48 hours of becoming homeless.
These predators promise love, protection, basic needs and in return, the commercial trade of their bodies begins.
Many of these children are put out by their own parents, Mom is struggling to pay the bills and Mom has boyfriends or other friends who would love to help her…and the kids for favors. Dad can’t make it now that he’s got to raise the kids after mom died but he’s got two pretty girls to help make ends meet.
If the victims reached out or showed signs of abuse, society generally doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t want to get involved. Some kids are too afraid to speak out or they’ve developed a warped sense of love for their parents and they believe it’s their duty.
67 percent of the sex trafficking victims are from foster or social care programs. 70 children a day enter into California’s systems; when they go missing, many aren’t even looked for unless they have an active family member to lead the search. The majority of demand across the country is for children under the age of 16.
People have names for them: slut, whore, disgusting, damaged, sex addict, drug addict, gay, criminal but they aren’t being called what they truly are. The men and women on the streets today are the victims society failed to protect yesterday.
One of the biggest risk factors for kids to become victims of sexual exploitation is social media and cell phones. Predators make fake accounts and lure kids into living their dreams, finding love or just someone who understands them and they decide to meet.
That seemingly innocent but sexy topless or nude picture someone sent their boyfriend/girlfriend on snapchat or in private messenger is now spreading like wild fire over the internet porn sites for everyone to see. Once the pictures are sent, the sender loses all control of where those pictures will end up and they will be on the internet forever for anyone to do with exactly as they please.
95 percent of teens have at least one social media account, 74 percent of parents say they are overwhelmed by technology, only 39 percent of parents admit to using parental controls and with an average time of six hours spent per day online, 71 percent of teens feel confident that they can hide their online activity from their parents and 80 percent of them say they have no rules from their parents about appropriate use of the internet.
80 percent of the kids also admit that the internet is as important as food, water and shelter.
Society’s acceptance of video games like Grand Theft Auto IV, which allows you to intentionally go out and kill prostitutes has desensitized society and continues to keep the bad stigma on prostitution. Grand Theft Auto V allows the player to have sex with the prostitute before killing them; it desensitizes youth to both violence and sex; for some without good parental guidance, it becomes “normal.”
Only one in 10 kids will tell their parents if they are a victim of online abuse. Mesquite lies directly on the 1-15 corridor to Las Vegas, which has one of the highest levels of human trafficking activity. From there it’s a hop-skip and a jump to San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and even Phoenix, which are also cities with major activity. Will you let your child become a victim?
For more information on how you can educate you community, yourself and your children on the subject visit these websites: www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign or www.humantraffickinghotline.org.