Agencies seek new approach to victims of sexual trafficking (2002)
August 29, 2002
SAN DIEGO - AP World
News: Law enforcement agencies and social workers are searching for new
ways to identify and work with victims of sexual slavery, who commonly
fear retribution by their abductors and shame from their families.
At the close Tuesday of a two-day conference on the international
trafficking of women and children,
experts spoke of the challenges faced in trying to combat commercial
According to a 1997 estimate by the State Department, each year some
50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States for
sexual exploitation. San Diego County and other regions near
the Mexican border are major points for such activity, said Deputy Rick
Castro of the county Sheriff's Department.
Castro was part of a law enforcement team that, in December, burst open
a criminal ring smuggling young Mexican girls into northern San Diego
County and forcing them to work as prostitutes, serving hundreds of men
who were being shuttled to a remote camp on a given day.
More than 40 people were arrested, and 16 young women and teens who had
been held as sex slaves were rescued. But as the investigation
developed, prosecutors were stymied as victims refused to speak
out against their abductors.
``Because of the high intimidation factor, we were unable to get the
evidence we needed to charge these
individuals,'' he said.
The case is typical of the frustrations authorities face in trying to
persuade victims of sex trafficking
to prosecute smugglers and pimps, he said.
The case in Oceanside came to light after a 15-year-old girl fled to a
private home and sought
help. The girl, identified only by her first name, Reina, was recruited
from a central Mexican village
with promises of a good job.
But then her captors took her infant son away from her and threatened to
harm him unless she prostituted herself.
Castro said it's a tactic commonly used by smugglers and pimps, who prey
on girls desperate to help support their families.
``They tell their parents, 'Oh, I'm going to work in a factory, or
cleaning houses, or in a restaurant and
I'll be able to send you money.' They're very proud of it,'' Castro
Once involved in the sex trade, the girls don't attempt to escape for
fear of being beaten, having their relatives beaten _ or even just
having their situation exposed, he said.
Understanding such challenges is important to anyone working with
victims of sexual exploitation.
Kelly Hill, a former broadcast journalist who was involved in
prostitution for several years, is the
founder of a Honolulu-based group which helps people find their way out
of sexual exploitation.
Hill had participants at the conference pair off and then describe their
first sexual experience. The
awkwardness some felt during the exercise, she noted, is a small piece
of what sexual exploitation victims feel in talking to authorities.
``You're asking them to share about really bad things that have been
done to them,'' Hill said. ``You're a
stranger and you want to know about all the very private, personal
things that have happened to them.
... Can you understand a little bit about how they might feel?''
Hill, who recently moved to Los Angeles to expand her group, Sisters
Offering Support, said it is crucial
that anyone questioning sex trade victims express genuine concern for
them and avoid making judgments.'
Sex trade victims, she said, may not admit to being prostituted, but the
right questions _ such as about
their well-being _ could lead them to open up.
Castro said many law enforcement officers may not realize they are
questioning a sexual exploitation
victim, perhaps because a girl is complaining about domestic violence by
a boyfriend who actually is a
On the Net:
Sisters Offering Support at
U.S. State Department report on human trafficking at