Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Man Sells Foster Daughter Into Prostitution

**This is a case from Maryland, but I wanted to repost this blog entry by Amanda Kloer to highlight an issue that often gets overlooked in our overburdened foster care system. When I worked in New York, I ran into a couple cases of this as well, so this is not a fluke occurance. We need to keep our eyes open to identify these cases even in the homes of people we assume are there to care for the children.
-Sandy**


by Amanda Kloer

Published October 26, 2009 @ 01:24PM PT

Pimps can be strangers to their child victims, but they are often someone the victim trusts, like a boyfriend, a parent, or a family member. In a case out of Maryland recently, Shelby Lewis sold his 12-year-old foster daughter, along with three other girls, into prostitution -- the price of the "rent" he charged them for living in his home. This case is an excellent case study of what domestic minor sex trafficking looks like in the U.S., since it has a number of very common factors present.

First, the victim was a part of the foster care system. It's common for American girls who are eventually trafficked by pimps to have been in foster care at one point in their lives. The connection between foster care and trafficking is due to both the vulnerability of young people without stable homes and the dysfunction of many foster care systems in the U.S.
Second, the pimp was someone the victim knew as a protector. While pimps can be strangers, they often approach victims first as boyfriends, friends, stepfathers, family members, etc. They groom the victim to rely on them and then claim, as Lewis did, that the cost of their protection and love is prostitution.

Third, the victims started in their early teens. Lewis first began pimping his foster daughter out when she was 12. He also sold three other girls, who he began exploiting at 13, 14, and 16. The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 in the U.S., so the ages of the victims in this case are typical.

Fourth, one of his victims was registered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It's not unusual for children who are reported missing, either as runaways or as kidnapping victims, end up in the hands of pimps like Lewis.

Lastly, child pornography makes an appearance in this case, as it does in many others. Lewis had pictures of his victims tied to beds in sexual poses at his apartment. Pimps can earn money by selling pornographic images of the girls they exploit in addition to selling the girls themselves.

While one of these factors might not be present in all cases of domestic minor sex trafficking, they are certainly present in a number of them. This case is an example of how the issue of child trafficking in the U.S. is deeply connected to the need for reform of the foster care system and better education for girls. The questions this case begs are much broader than just those related to human trafficking: Why are foster youths so susceptible to trafficking? Why are men buying girls so young for sex? It's a reminder that we must always view trafficking within the context of social issues pimps utilize to help them traffic girls.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Human trafficking `survivor' to speak at Miami summit

MIAMI HERALD
Posted on Wed, Oct. 28, 2009

BY JARED GOYETTE
jgoyette@MiamiHerald.com

She was only 13 years old, a runaway fleeing an abusive father, when a pimp reeled her in with the promise of fast cash and an independent life.

`You're 13 years old and you see $400, $600, $800 in your hand,'' she said in an interview. `I'm seeing all this money and I'm like, I could get somewhere, I could make it on my own. I don't need my parents for nothing.''

Mia, who did not want to disclose her last name, would end up far from her Arizona home, trafficked by pimps to California, and later traveling to New York. She estimates she was arrested more than 50 times.

Now, five years later, she lives in Miami and is trying to rebuild her life. She has a job and is in school. Her priorities have changed -- now she has a young son to take care of.

On Thursday, Mia will tell her story during the second day of a two-day statewide Summit on Human Trafficking at the Miami Hilton downtown.

The summit, the first of its kind in Florida, brings together law enforcement authorities, social workers and community groups to help combat human trafficking and assist `survivors.''

Among those addressing the summit: Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon and Cameron Holland, the State Department's legal counsel on human trafficking.

`Traffickers are selling women and children on our cities' streets, they are forcing large numbers of victims to work in our fields and in our factories. They are enslaving workers in the very hotels we stay in,'' Sheldon said in a written statement.

`We must ensure that we have more people who can recognize trafficking for what it is and establish the ways for reporting, investigating, prosecuting perpetrators and treating victims, giving them the support and services they need to become survivors and lead healthy and successful lives, free from oppression,'' he said.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature created the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, to be co-chaired by DCF and the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

U.S. Justice Department officials estimate that as many as 200,000 children each year are trafficked within the United States as part of a vast sex industry. As many as 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year.

United Nations officials say human trafficking generates $31.6 billion a year in global business profits, second only to drug trafficking.

The summit -- Recognizing the Problem, Collaborating on a Response -- is being held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Miami Hilton Downtown, 1601 Biscayne Blvd.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Clinton Global Initiative: The Body Shop Unveils Latest Action to Stop Child Sex Trafficking

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, CEO of The Body Shop International, Sophie Gasperment, unveils an innovative new approach to addressing the global issue of child sex trafficking, at the fifth Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York.

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) this year is offering a unique opportunity to bring world leaders together to recognize the importance of tackling child sex trafficking, an issue, by its very nature, affecting every country around the world. At the CGI, Ms. Gasperment will unveil an innovative 'Progress Card System' which paints a global picture of how the world's governments are taking action and assesses their progress in their efforts to tackle child sex trafficking in more than 40 countries worldwide.

The Body Shop has been invited to participate at the CGI in recognition of its 'Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People' campaign which launched across the world in August in partnership with ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). The Body Shop and ECPAT International believe the launch of these ground-breaking cards will dramatically accelerate progress to end child sex trafficking over the course of the next three years.

"When The Body Shop undertook its global commitment to help bring an end to child sex trafficking we wanted to do more than just talk about it; we wanted to take action that could really have a tangible and positive impact in the countries where we have stores. The Progress Cards System we are launching today takes us that next step closer to effecting measurable and essential change," states Ms. Gasperment.

The Body Shop is the original, natural and ethical beauty brand, with more than 2,500 stores across over 60 countries, and a strong heritage of campaigning on important issues.

Ms. Gasperment adds: "We are proud to have been invited to the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting to present this new approach and gather feedback and support from so many truly inspiring global change-makers. It will be invaluable to the development of this powerful campaign. Today, the first findings from the Progress Cards we release reveal that many countries are still ill-equipped to deal with the issue of sex trafficking of children and young people."

Carmen Madrinan, Executive Director of ECPAT International added, "The first findings from the Progress Card project reveal a truly challenging situation. By reaching out to the public with this information, we aim to elicit broad interest in child protection and enable wide public participation and support to accelerate change in partnership with the private sector, civil society and with government in the lead."

Ms. Gasperment will take part in a CGI Working Session entitled, "Leadership Solutions to End Human Trafficking and Forced Labor," alongside panel members including Ambassador Luis de Bacc of the US State Department, Kailash Satyarthi - Global March Against Child Labor; a representative from Rugmark; and actress Julia Ormond, a UN goodwill ambassador and founder of ASSET.

Background:

The comprehensive Country Progress Cards focus on the specific situation at a country level, enabling its citizens to:

Monitor the measures implemented by individual governments to protect children;
Assess their nation's effectiveness against child sex trafficking;

Identify urgent actions required to protect children from becoming victims of sex trafficking; and

Encourage countries to turn binding and moral agreements into concrete positive outcomes for children.

Key Progress Card findings for 2009:

Only 10% of countries reviewed have special police units established across the country to investigate child trafficking cases with appropriate specialized training;

60% of the assistance and care services offered to children in countries reviewed are not comprehensive or specialized for child victims of trafficking;
1 in 3 countries do not have help lines to provide specialized assistance to vulnerable children or child victims of trafficking;

1 in 3 countries do not have specialized shelters to accommodate child victims of trafficking;

Only 2% of nations are reported to offer comprehensive and specialized counselling services to specifically address the particular needs of child victims of trafficking for sexual purposes, whilst 29% do not offer any type of services to accompany the psychological healing of child victims.

Over the next three years of the partnership between The Body Shop and ECPAT International, it is believed the Country Progress Cards will:

Increase the amount of information made available, reflecting the urgency of the situation in more countries and analysing the progress made to "Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People";

Increase resources and knowledge to build commitment to the goals of the campaign among a larger public and strengthen the grassroots base in each country;
Create a channel to mobilize active supporters and demand action from governments and decision-makers.

About the Campaign:

The Stop Sex Trafficking of Children & Young People campaign complements and supports the continuing work of the various monitoring bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Council and, in particular, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on Trafficking in Persons, to ensure that the rights of children are respected and that nations are held responsible for guaranteeing this commitment is fulfilled.

By 2012, when the final global assessment is released by The Body Shop and ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), it is expected that significant progress will have been made by individual governments and other relevant stakeholders to honor their commitments and secure a safer world for children.

The Body Shop has taken a major leadership position on the issue of child sex trafficking, working with ECPAT International to launch a report, "Their Protection is in Our Hands - The State of Global Trafficking of Children and Young People for Sexual Purposes."

To learn more about and to support the Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People campaign visit http://www.thebodyshop.com/stop.

The Body Shop is raising funds through sales of a new Soft Hands Kind Hearts Hand Cream, all proceeds of which go to ECPAT affiliates and ECPAT International.

A summary of the Country Progress Cards System is available upon request.

About The Body Shop

The Body Shop International is the leading natural and ethical cosmetics company, now operating more than 2,500 stores in over 60 markets worldwide. The Body Shop has constantly sought out wonderful natural ingredients from all four corners of the globe to bring you products bursting with effectiveness, to enhance your natural beauty. We strive to use our planet's resources wisely, searching for outstanding natural materials and ingredients from across the globe to include in our range of products. We continue to lead the way, introducing 100% recycled packaging, raising funds and awareness to help prevent the spread of HIV/ AIDS, and continuing to support marginalized communities around the world through our unique Community Trade program.

About ECPAT International

ECPAT International is a global network composed of more than 81 member organizations in 75 countries. Members of ECPAT work to combat commercial sexual exploitation, including providing direct care to child victims' public information campaigns and working with governments to design and implement action to protect children.

About the Clinton Global Initiative

In 2005, President Bill Clinton established the Clinton Global Initiative to turn ideas into action and to help our world move beyond the current state of globalization to a more integrated global community of shared benefits, responsibilities, and values. By gathering world leaders from a variety of backgrounds, CGI creates a unique opportunity to channel the capacities of individuals and organizations to realize change. To fulfill the action-oriented mission of CGI, all members devise practical solutions to global issues through the development of specific and measurable Commitments to Action.


CGI Annual Meetings have brought together more than 100 current and former heads of state, 14 Nobel Peace Prize winners, hundreds of leading global CEOs, major philanthropists and foundation heads, directors of the most effective non-governmental organizations, and prominent members of the media. These CGI members have made more than 1,400 commitments valued at $46 billion, which have already improved more than 200 million lives in 150 countries. Commitments made at the 2008 Annual Meeting are expected to impact almost 160 million people.


MEDIA CONTACTS:
Mike Rosen or Tara Madden Shelley Simmons
Bratskeir & Company (for The Body Shop) The Body Shop
212.679.2233 212.480.9878
mrosen@bratskeir.com shelley.simmons@thebodyshop.com
tmadden@bratskeir.com


SOURCE The Body Shop International

Friday, September 11, 2009

More ACORN videos

Here are links to Part II and Part III of the ACORN videos that expose two staffers for trying to aid a "pimp" in tax evasion and trafficking of minors from Honduras for prostitution. Part I is embedded below.

Part II

Part III

ACORN staffers assisting traffickers - VIDEO

Here is the video of the ACORN staff members assisting a "pimp" and his "young prostitute" in tax evasion and trafficking of 13 Honduran minors for prostitution. Most notable is when the ACORN worker is advising the pimp to "train the 14 year old girls to keep their mouths shut".

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rachel Lloyd Receives Prestigious Ashoka Fellowship

**CONGRATULATIONS!! I am so proud of Rachel Lloyd, and so honored to have had the opportunity to work for her and share her innovative model of working with DMST victims here in Miami.** -Sandy


Rachel Lloyd, the founder and executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services has been recognized by the renowned Ashoka organization as one of the worlds leading social entrepreneurs and awarded its prestigious “Ashoka Fellowhip”.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRLog (Press Release) – Sep 02, 2009 – Rachel Lloyd, the founder and executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) has been recognized by the renowned Ashoka organization as one of the worlds leading social entrepreneurs and awarded its prestigious “Ashoka Fellowhip”. Ashoka Fellows are recognized for their innovative solutions to some of society’s most pressing social problems and benefit from being part of the Ashoka global fellowship for life along with a 3-year stipend to support their work.

Ms. Lloyd was elected for her work as a voice and activist at the local, state and national level to promote policies that support American girls and young women, ages 12-21 who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. GEMS is the largest non-profit organization in America designed to empower commercially exploited and trafficked youth.

Ms. Lloyd successfully completed Ashoka’s rigorous selection process to join the global fellowship of over 2000 leading social entrepreneurs, Nobel Prize laureates and exceptional nonprofit leaders who share qualities traditionally associated with leading business entrepreneurs – vision, innovation, determination and long-term commitment – but are committed to systemic social change in their fields.

Being awarded an Ashoka Fellowship is a significant achievement for Ms. Lloyd as she continues her efforts to transform public perception of sexually exploited youth that has included being instrumental in the successful passing of the NY Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act and co-producing the critically acclaimed Showtime documentary, ‘Very Young Girls’.

A graduate of Marymount Manhattan College and City College with degrees in Psychology and Applied Urban Anthropology, respectively, Ms. Lloyd is an activist, educator, author, mentor, and recipient of other notable awards including The 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award, Susan B. Anthony Award from the New York City Chapter of the National Organization for Women and named one of Ms. Magazines '50 Women Who Change the World'.

Rachel Lloyd’s vision and success is exemplary of one of Ashoka’s core tenets --that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.

For more information about GEMS: www.gems-girls.org
For more information about Ashoka: www.ashoka.org

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fort Myers ministry helps women leave sex trade

Click here to see full article with photos and video

August 31, 2009

BY Cristela Guerra
cguerra@news-press.com
www.news-press.com

For seven years and in 13 cities, Julie Taylor Shematz was Diamond. She danced in front of strangers in dark, smoky rooms to make a living.

In the dressing room, it was a different story.

“She would come in and say she’d had it,” Shematz said. “She” was any of her fellow strippers at any given time.

“She’d be bawling, crying and cussing, saying she’s quitting. And everyone knew she’d be back.”

Shematz, 44, has given up the strip-club circuit and now headlines Beauty From Ashes with her husband, Steve. The nonprofit counsels erotic dancers, sex workers, porn actors and sex-trafficking victims.

Starting Tuesday, Shematz’s ministry will hold its annual Beauty From Ashes National Strip Club Outreach & XXX Ministry Training at Word of Life Church in Fort Myers.

Its purpose is to coach volunteers on how to reach out and offer workers in sex trades a way out.

In the sex industry, Shematz said the line between stripping and exploitation can often become blurred.

“I didn’t realize was how all that mental, physical, verbal abuse would affect me over time,” she said.

On the horizon, Shematz is seeking to develop Freedom Children’s Home, a home for minors who are victims of domestic sex trafficking.

Nola Theiss, coordinator of the Lee County Human Trafficking Task Force and executive director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, said there are only two other homes in the nation that reach out to juvenile sex victims.

“A 12-year-old gets picked up and forced into the sex trade,” Theiss said. “She’s under the radar for three years until she’s rescued. But what do you do then? You don’t put her in the 10th grade and say ‘good luck.’”

Detective Mike Zaleski of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has seen too many trafficking cases with young girls in prostitution rings.

“There are many documented cases where victims have been sexually battered, beaten, tied up, and also tortured,” he said by e-mail. “In every instance there have been emotional traumas that the victim has endured.”

Shematz works up to 60-hour weeks with the “overcomers,” as she refers to the women. Through her Web site and social networking sites such as Facebook, she reaches dozens.

“It takes a long time for these girls to become adjusted to society,” she said. “The temptation to go back is always there crouching at your door.”

Aid could be assistance through education, job placement, relocation if necessary, and short-term housing.

Shematz visits the ministry’s adopted club, Fantasy’s at the Beach in Fort Myers Beach, once or twice a month, bringing food, provisions and sometimes prayer. She also has referred women to her home church, Word of Life Ministries in Fort Myers.

The church’s New Life Center on Collier Avenue is a self-contained haven for people looking to change their lifestyle, and an alternative to jail. The facility houses 113, providing room and board while clients go through a rigorous 18-month program.

“We provide personal counseling and biblical healing. There’s a need in the community for restoration,” said Bishop Gaspar Anastasi, who founded the first center 26 years ago in Freeport, N.Y., and in Fort Myers six years ago.

The program costs $700 per student, which the church’s congregation pays for through donations. The ministry boasts a 98 percent success rate.

Woman and men at the Word of Life Church eat, sleep and pray in separate areas.

Some mothers live at the facility with their children.

Arneteria Benford-Jones, 36, hopes to join the program. The Fort Myers woman met Shematz through church.

“I started at a (strip) club in Tampa,” Jones said. “I was 19 years old. You see all activities, club owners, drug dealers and pimps. It made me grow up fast.”

Jones said she’d been beaten and raped while feeding a cocaine addiction. Now, she considers herself an “overcomer.”

“I look at Julie and I don’t know why she loves me so much,” Jones said. “God sends people into your life for a reason. Though you struggle and go through storms, that’s what makes me special. If God can help me, he can help anyone.”

Reality struck Shematz when she decided to complete her college degree at 28. She was taking classes in Indianapolis while working up to five part-time jobs.

“I just thought to myself, ‘I’ll do it for a short while,’” Shematz said about stripping. A short while turned to years, even while working at what she called “the nicest club in Indianapolis.” Stripping fed her desire for attention, Shematz said, but it also made her hate herself later.

Today, Shematz has trained outreach groups in Indianapolis, Detroit and Daytona Beach — all cities in which she performed.

“All little girls, when they’re young, get up on a coffee table and ask their dad, ‘Am I pretty? Am I pretty?’” she said. “A lot of these girls never had this, and on stage what they’re saying is, ‘Look at me, do you like me? Do you want me?’”

Jeff Isacksen, 41, night manager at Fantasy’s, has watched Shematz come in to speak to his club’s dancers for years.

“The truth is, it’s a tough business that takes a lot of trust,” Isacksen said.

“But it gets old fast,” Isacksen said. “It’s more grief and heartache than anything else.”

Fantasy’s is the only strip club in the area in which Shematz has ministered. She’s waiting for the right time to go to other clubs in town.

Not all performers want to be saved. At Lookers on Fowler Street, Zahara works on her routine making what she said is up to $500 a night at times.

She’s not ashamed, but said she’s used to people such as Shematz telling her to quit.

“Everyone sees strippers as drug addicts and whores, but the thing is, a lot of the girls aren’t,” said Zahara, who declined to give her real name. “I’ve been clean for six months.”

The 21-year-old said she strips to provide for her sister and niece. She said it’s hard to do sober, but she tries.

As a professionally trained dancer, Zahara’s love is the waltz. Instead of gliding across a ballroom, her body takes shape around a pole, spinning and contorting with the rhythm.

To her, “Lookers is like a family.” But Zahara has other dreams. “Sometimes it’s hard to put on that smile,” she said. “But it pays the bills.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kristi House newsletter highlights Project GOLD

Project GOLD is featured on the front page of Kristi House's most recent newsletter. Click here and check out our latest successes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

State Representative Maria Sachs Appointed to the Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking

PRESS RELEASE
CONTACT: Rep. Maria Sachs, 561-266-6645
For Immediate Release--Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TALLAHASSEE – State Representative Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) will serve on the Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking, under an appointment made by Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

The Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking is a 19-person panel created to evaluate the problem of human trafficking and to recommend strategies and actions for reducing or eliminating the unlawful trafficking of men, women and children into Florida.

“I am honored to be appointed to serve on the Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking for the state of Florida,” said Representative Sachs. “Human trafficking has become the number one crime issue in South Florida and one that impacts all of us. It has truly become a problem and Florida is at the center of this global epidemic.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shared Hope International Exposes Child Sex Trafficking In South Florida

Posted on: http://www.robertstevenduncan.com/2009/07/shared-hope-international-exposes-child.html

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

(RSD) -- Shared Hope International will release a report and training video on domestic minor sex trafficking at the upcoming Child Slavery in Our Community Leadership and Training Summit.

The Assessment of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in Broward and Dade Counties, Florida reveals that child victims of sex trafficking are being arrested for prostitution in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. These severely victimized and traumatized children are being misidentified as juvenile delinquents and punished for the crime that is being committed against them.

In fact, the report documents more than 500 juveniles were arrested for prostitution in Miami-Dade County from 1998-2008. A lack of training for social service providers and first responders is noted as the primary gap causing the misidentification of child victims of sex trafficking.

"Many service providers currently work with victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, but are not aware of how to properly identify and respond to these children. Misidentification of just one child victim of sex trafficking is too many. However, I believe that the upcoming training we are hosting this Thursday will provide a springboard for response and action as the communities of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties come together to find a solution," said former Congresswoman Linda Smith, President and Founder of Shared Hope International.

On July 9, 2009 law enforcement officers, social service providers, and child advocates from Broward and Miami-Dade counties convene at St. Thomas University School of Law for the Child Slavery in Our Community Leadership and Training Summit. Organized by Shared Hope International, the summit will bring an exclusive focus on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking - the commercial sexual exploitation of children through prostitution, pornography, and stripping.

Shared Hope International said it will use this event to release video with surveillance footage, survivor interviews, and expert testimony to educate and inform social service providers on how to identify and respond to American children who are commercially sexually exploited.

The new training video INTERVENE: Identifying and Responding to America's Prostituted Children, reveals how American children are recruited and tricked into prostitution in the United States and will assist social service providers in understanding who these victims are and how to better serve them.

In the video, child sex trafficking survivor "Maya" who was trafficked in South Florida said this of surviving prostitution as a child, "I would tell a social worker that she needs to be understanding and when she's talking to the girls to really focus on more or less why they want to be out of the life... If I had someone like Sandy from Kristi House years earlier I could have probably spared me a lot of years of abuse - of all the trauma and negativity."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Feds: Man promised to make girl a 'star,' instead turned her into prostitute

OrlandoSentinel.com
Amy L. Edwards
Sentinel Staff Writer

5:36 PM EDT, June 11, 2009

When Dwayne Lawson befriended a 17-year-old Central Florida girl on MySpace, he promised to make her a "star."

Instead, he made her a prostitute -- pimping her out on streets thousands of miles from home, and selling her services on Craigslist, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Now, the 28-year-old Orlando man is behind bars in a California jail, accused of one count of sex trafficking of children. Lawson, also known as "Christopher Young," "Christopher Yoong," and "Staydown," met the girl through her MySpace page in October, the complaint said.

Lawson told the girl, identified in the complaint as "FM," he had a house, cars and money.

"FM thought she was going to be a star," the complaint said.

Lawson bought the teen a bus ticket and she traveled to Las Vegas, where she met up with him and an 18-year-old woman who had been working as a prostitute for Lawson for several years. From there, the complaint said, Lawson took the teen and unidentified woman to Orange County, Calif.

Lawson told FM the rules -- like don't kiss men on the mouth -- and told her how much to charge.

Lawson and the woman took nude photos of FM, posted them on Craigslist advertising sex in that area, and coached the teen on how to talk to "customers," the complaint said.

After FM met with a customer, all of her money went to Lawson.

Eventually, Lawson put FM "on the track" in California and Las Vegas. She was twice arrested on prostitution charges, providing a fake ID to law enforcement on both occasions, and was ticketed and released, the complaint said.

While in San Diego, FM was experiencing severe pain and Lawson did not want to take her to the doctor. When he eventually dropped her off at a hospital, a doctor told FM she shouldn't have sex for at least one week. The complaint said the teen asked the doctor to put it in writing so she could show Lawson. But Lawson told FM she could still make money.

In February, FM bought a bus ticket to get away from Lawson, but the teen returned after he repeatedly called her and talked her into coming back. When she did return, the complaint said, he took off his rings and threatened to beat her if she left again. He then took her cell phone away.

Local and federal law-enforcement agents compared photos of FM on Craigslist to that of a girl depicted in an endangered runaway poster through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and determined it was the same teen.

Lawson, who is listed as a fugitive with the Florida Department of Corrections for absconding felony probation, was arrested and is slated for trial in August.

Amy L. Edwards can be reached at aledwards@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5735.

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Girls on Our Streets

NEW YORK TIMES

May 7, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
ATLANTA

Jasmine Caldwell was 14 and selling sex on the streets when an opportunity arose to escape her pimp: an undercover policeman picked her up.

The cop could have rescued her from the pimp, who ran a string of 13 girls and took every cent they earned. If the cop had taken Jasmine to a shelter, she could have resumed her education and tried to put her life back in order.

Instead, the policeman showed her his handcuffs and threatened to send her to prison. Terrified, she cried and pleaded not to be jailed. Then, she said, he offered to release her in exchange for sex.

Afterward, the policeman returned her to the street. Then her pimp beat her up for failing to collect any money.

“That happens a lot,” said Jasmine, who is now 21. “The cops sometimes just want to blackmail you into having sex.”

I’ve often reported on sex trafficking in other countries, and that has made me curious about the situation here in the United States. Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed). But the scene on American streets is still appalling — and it continues largely because neither the authorities nor society as a whole show much interest in 14-year-old girls pimped on the streets.

Americans tend to think of forced prostitution as the plight of Mexican or Asian women trafficked into the United States and locked up in brothels. Such trafficking is indeed a problem, but the far greater scandal and the worst violence involves American teenage girls.

If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.

These domestic girls are often runaways or those called “throwaways” by social workers: teenagers who fight with their parents and are then kicked out of the home. These girls tend to be much younger than the women trafficked from abroad and, as best I can tell, are more likely to be controlled by force.

Pimps are not the business partners they purport to be. They typically take every penny the girls earn. They work the girls seven nights a week. They sometimes tattoo their girls the way ranchers brand their cattle, and they back up their business model with fists and threats.

“If you don’t earn enough money, you get beat,” said Jasmine, an African-American who has turned her life around with the help of Covenant House, an organization that works with children on the street. “If you say something you’re not supposed to, you get beat. If you stay too long with a customer, you get beat. And if you try to leave the pimp, you get beat.”

The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.

It’s not solely violence that keeps the girls working for their pimps. Jasmine fled an abusive home at age 13, and she said she — like most girls — stayed with the pimp mostly because of his emotional manipulation. “I thought he loved me, so I wanted to be around him,” she said.

That’s common. Girls who are starved of self-esteem finally meet a man who showers them with gifts, drugs and dollops of affection. That, and a lack of alternatives, keeps them working for him — and if that isn’t enough, he shoves a gun in the girl’s mouth and threatens to kill her.

Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.

“The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews,” notes Stephanie Davis, who has worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin to help coordinate a campaign to get teenage prostitutes off the streets.

Two amiable teenage prostitutes, working without a pimp for the “fast money,” told me that there will always be women and girls selling sex voluntarily. They’re probably right. But we can significantly reduce the number of 14-year-old girls who are terrorized by pimps and raped by many men seven nights a week. That’s doable, if it’s a national priority, if we’re willing to create the equivalent of a nationwide amber alert.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Very Young Girls" Documentary Available to the Public

Many of you have asked me how you can see the documentary "Very Young Girls"; the film about the young ladies of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) in New York City and their journey to be free from lives of sexual exploitation and violence. This is a fabulous film about human trafficking right here in the United States. The part I like most is that the girls themselves were fully empowered and involved in the creation of the film. Kudos to Positive Youth Development! We should all take a page from Rachel Lloyd's (GEMS Ex. Dir.) book on how to be youth-centered and inclusive of the youth in programming meant to benefit them.

Oh and, by the way, if you like the film, and are looking for ways to do something about the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking, GEMS will accept your contributions in New York City. Kristi House is also working with girls locally, here in Miami, and you can contact them for ways to help out. Lastly, make sure everyone you know sees the film.

Here's the update on the film:

The film is now being shown on Showtime on Demand. It's available on DVD via Netflix. You can also buy a copy of the film or other great products from GEMS by visiting their online store.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CSEC Working Group Meeting

Our next Commercially Sexually Exploited Children's (CSEC) Working Group meeting is:

Wednesday
June 10th
2:30-4pm

Kristi House
1265 NW 12th Ave.

We look forward to seeing you there.

New Laws Treat Teen Prostitutes as Abuse Victims

Kristi House is gearing up to take model legislation from California and New York and promote it here in Florida!! Read more about the new laws.

***************

Associated Press
By CHRISTINA HOAG Associated Press Writer
Published: Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 2:18 p.m.

LOS ANGELES - By the time she was 8, Amanda had been sexually abused by her father's friend for four years. At 12, she was peddling crack. At 14, she was selling sex on the sidewalk.

Her pimp beat her weekly to keep her working, stitching up her wounds himself to avoid questions at a hospital. Her average earnings of $600 for a 13-hour day of turning tricks bought him a car.

Now 15, Amanda is rebuilding her life. Caught when a cop stopped one of her customers for a broken tail light, she was sent to Children of the Night, a residential program in suburban Los Angeles that rehabilitates teen prostitutes.

"All my life my plate was like overfilled with problems," she said. "I always asked God to give me something good, and this is it."

The fact that Amanda was rescued instead of arrested reflects not only a stroke of luck but a decidedly different take on tackling the juvenile sex trade. Courts and law enforcement are increasingly treating young prostitutes as child abuse victims - and their pimps as human traffickers.

"This is an institutional shift," said Nancy O'Malley, an Alameda County prosecutor who wrote California's new sexually exploited minors law. "It's about getting people to shift their attention and judgment from the minor and seeing what's beyond this criminal behavior."

New York also has a new law that calls for underage prostitutes to be sent to rehabilitation programs instead of juvenile detention, along with more training for law enforcement in handling the troubled teenagers and taking a harder line on their pimps.

In many other states, prosecutors are charging pimps with human trafficking, or the transportation of people for illicit commercial purposes. Convictions can land traffickers in prison for decades.

The approach comes as pimps are getting increasingly sophisticated and harder to bust. They run loose networks across states lines that distribute girls like drugs and set up Internet sex operations that are tough to infiltrate.

The result: Teen prostitution has spread to towns across the country, said Michael Langeman, who heads the FBI's Crimes Against Children unit. The FBI's work is also bolstered by federal trafficking laws to crack down on pimps.

In Nevada, a man was sentenced to life for transporting two girls from that state to cities around California to work as prostitutes in 2006. Last year, three people pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of children in San Diego for running an Internet-advertised sex ring with 14- and 16-year-olds.

"This isn't like the old days of a slap on the wrist," said Keith Bolkar, who heads the FBI's Cybercrimes unit in Los Angeles.

Rescuing the girls is an important part of the equation. In most cases, they're troubled, often sexually abused, lured into prostitution by "boyfriends" who shower them with the loving attention they lack at home.
Gifts and outings, though, turn into violence and emotional manipulation.

That was the case with Samantha, a 15-year-old from Orange County and now at Children of the Night. At 14, she said, she started using drugs and skipping school. She soon met an older man.

"He gave me money, drugs, clothes," she recalled. "I was having fun. Then he started hitting me."

The boyfriend took her to Arizona, made her pose for photos in lingerie and have sex with men who responded to Craigslist ads.

"I complained a lot so he gave me drugs," she said.

She was rescued when another girl was arrested and told police about her.

Children of the Night, which has 24 beds, is one of about four rehab programs for teen prostitutes around the country. The others are in New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta. Two more are planned to open this year in Oakland and Toledo, Ohio.

The dearth of programs means girls from all over the country are sent to Children of the Night.

Gladys, a 17-year-old from a Miami suburb, found herself there after she ran away from home to be with a boyfriend. The boyfriend advertised her as a prostitute on Craigslist and threatened to kill her if she didn't comply.
She was shuffled around motels over a two-month period until one of his other "girlfriends" got arrested.

"I was like 'thank God. I want to go home. What did I get myself into?'"
she said.

Now, she's completing high school and driver's instruction and looking for a job.

The Associated Press doesn't routinely identify the victims of sexual abuse. The names Amanda, Samantha and Gladys are pseudonyms.

Programs that build the girls' self-esteem, push them to finish high school and heal their trauma are ideal, but funding is always short for a cause that generally doesn't engender public sympathy, said Lois Lee, a sociologist who founded Children of the Night 30 years ago in her home and runs it on $2 million a year in private donations.

Once a girl becomes involved in prostitution, her prospects are bleak. An arrest usually offers the only hope for escape. Even then, there's a small chance the girl is offered rehabilitation - and accepts it. Lee said 61 percent of 94 girls at Children of the Night in 2008 completed the program.

Amanda, now studying for her high school diploma, realized that was her fate if she didn't accept Children of the Night.

"I said to myself 'If I go back to the streets, I'm there 'til I die,'" she said. "I knew this was my chance."

Friday, April 3, 2009

CSEC Working Group Meeting

Our next Commercially Sexually Exploited Children's (CSEC) Working Group meeting is next week:

Wednesday
April 8th
2:30-4pm

Kristi House
1265 NW 12th Ave.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Now This is Thinking Outside of the Box

NY Assemblyman Wants to Tax Patrons of Strip Bars

ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 11, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — You might call it a "pole tax." The New York legislator who brought the nation its first law against driving while using a cell phone is proposing a $10 tax for patrons of nude and seminude dance clubs and strip bars.

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, a Bronx Democrat, says the revenue would go toward helping victims of human trafficking at a time when government budgets are being slashed.

The bill doesn't have a Senate sponsor yet.

In Texas, state lawyers are fighting to preserve their $5 "pole tax," a cover charge on strip clubs, is being challenged by business owners.

The Texas Legislature approved the fee in 2007, hoping to spend the money on sexual assault and health insurance programs, but a judge declared it unconstitutional. The state is appealing.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Miami Beach man faces federal pimping charges

Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Feb. 23, 2009

By EVAN S. BENN

Federal investigators charged a Miami Beach man with running an escort service that took advantage of immigrant women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.

Rafael ''Marco'' Bernabe-Caballero served as pimp of MiamiUltimate.com, flying women from Miami to hook up with johns in Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., according to a 20-page indictment unsealed last week.

It wasn't until the women were in their hotel rooms and johns were on the way that Bernabe-Caballero told them they had to perform sexual acts in exchange for cash, investigators said. The women were required to have sex with as many as 10 men a day.

''If women refused or resisted, Bernabe-Caballero made various threats to coerce their compliance, such as he would cause the women or their families to be harmed or killed or he would report the women to immigration officials'' if they were not citizens of the United States, the indictment notes.

After the sexual encounters, the women were required to wire 40 percent of the money they earned plus traveling expenses to Bernabe-Caballero. Investigators found wire transfers of $225 to $1,800 from various Michigan cities from March 2007 through November 2008.

Bernabe-Caballero, 34, remained without bond in Miami's Federal Detention Center Monday night and was scheduled for a 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday about extradition to Michigan, where the grand jury in the case had convened. Bernabe-Caballero's attorney, Rene A. Sotorrio, declined to comment about the case.

Also charged in the MiamiUltimate.com escort sting: Michael Porru, a Maryland man who worked in cahoots with Bernabe-Caballero by posting positive online reviews of MiamiUltimate's escorts in exchange for sex discounts, the indictment alleges.

Porru and Bernabe-Caballero also are accused of exchanging e-mails where they discussed starting a new escort service together in the Washington area.

Bernabe-Caballero, who has a listed address at 25th Street and Collins Drive, does not have a criminal record in Miami-Dade County, records show.

C 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 23, 2009

FBI sting rescues child prostitutes around country

Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Feb. 23, 2009

BY DEVLIN BARRETT

The FBI has rescued more than 45 suspected teenage prostitutes, including two in South Florida, in a nationwide sweep to remove kids from the illegal sex trade and punish their accused pimps.
Over a three-night initiative called Operation Cross Country, federal agents working with local law enforcement also arrested more than 50 alleged pimps, according to preliminary bureau data.

Agents in cities from Miami to Chicago to Anchorage took part in the operation. The teenage prostitutes found in the investigation ranged in age from 13 to 17.

Miami, Miami-Dade and Miami Beach police helped local FBI agents in the investigation last weekend, Special Agent Judy Orihuela said. They took a 16- and a 17-year-old sex worker off the streets, and local police filed 28 misdemeanor prostitution charges and one felony drug charge.

Historically, federal authorities rarely play a role in anti-prostitution crackdowns, but the FBI is becoming more involved as it tries to rescue children caught up in the business.

''The goal is to recover kids. We consider them the child victims of prostitution,'' said FBI Deputy Assistant Director Daniel Roberts.

'Unfortunately, the vast majority of these kids are what they term `throwaway kids,' with no family support, no friends. They're kids that nobody wants, they're loners. Many are runaways,'' Roberts said.

Most of the children are put into the custody of local child protection agencies.

The federal effort is also designed to hit pimps with much tougher prison sentences than they would likely get in state criminal courts.

Government prosecutors look to bring racketeering charges or conspiracy charges that can result in decades of jail time.

''Some of these networks of pimps and their organizations are very sophisticated, they're interstate,'' said Roberts, requiring wiretaps and undercover sting operations to bring charges.

The weekend's roundup marked the third such Operation Cross Country, and is part of a broader federal program launched in 2003 to crack down on the sexual exploitation of children.

Miami Herald staff writer Evan S. Benn contributed to this report.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Human Trafficking Conference at St. Thomas University

Join the LL.M./ J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights & the
Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking

for a conference on:

“Human Trafficking: Global and Local Perspectives”

Thursday, February 12, 2009
9 AM – 5 PM


Moot Court Room
St. Thomas University School of Law
16401 NW 37th Avenue
Miami, FL 33054

The most vulnerable members of our human family, the victims of human trafficking, in their silent pain call for help. Millions of them suffer each year from one of the greatest affronts to human dignity the world has ever seen. This shocking phenomenon now successfully rivals drugs and weapons, becoming one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world.

The community of nations has stood up to face the challenge. The United States continues to be in the forefront of international efforts to combat this horrendous crime. Successes are great, but the challenge even greater. Governed by our duty as civil society members to help shed light on this phenomenon, but also to assess needs, analyze situations, and suggest solutions, academic and religious communities, non-governmental organizations and interested individuals gather to contribute their efforts to defeat this scourge. Through presentations and discussions, questions and answers the conference will play its modest role in battling this 21st century slavery.

Sessions will examine:

• Human Trafficking: A Human Rights or a Criminal Law issue?
• The Necessity of a Victim-Oriented Approach to Human Trafficking
• Trafficking Initiatives in South Florida
• Research and Training Needs in the Field and Incipient Responses

Open to the public. No reservations required.

For more information contact:

Dr. iur. Roza Pati, LL.M.
Executive Director & Adjunct Professor of Law
LL.M./ J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights
Phone: 305 474 2447
E-Mail: rpati@Stu.edu


Conference Agenda:

8:30 AM – 9: 00 AM --Registration and Continental Breakfast

9: 00 AM – 9: 30 AM --Welcome & Opening Remarks:

Reverend Monsignor Franklyn Casale
President of St. Thomas University

Dean Alfredo Garcia
Professor of Law & Dean, St. Thomas University Law School

Dr. iur. Roza Pati, LL.M.
Executive Director & Adjunct Professor of Law
LL.M./ J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights

9:30 AM-11AM

Panel I: Human Trafficking: A Human Rights or a Criminal Law issue?


Speakers:

Professor Dr. Ryszard Piotrowicz
University of Aberystwyth, Department of Law and Criminology
Wales, United Kingdom

Ann Marie Villafana, Esq.
Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Florida

Mark Kielsgard, Esq. LL.M., J.S.D. Candidate
Human Rights Expert

Karlyn J. Hunter, Esq.
Assistant U. S. Attorney, Southern District of Florida

11:00 AM-12:30 PM

Panel II: The Necessity of a Victim-Oriented Approach to Human Trafficking


Speakers:

Professor Dr. Federico Lenzerini
University of Siena School of Law, Siena, Italy

Ana Isabel Vallejo, Esq., LL.M., J.S.D. Candidate
Supervising Attorney, Lucha: A Women’s Legal Project
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center

Jasna Vujin, Esq., LL.M.
Human Trafficking Expert, Serbia

Kara Franker
Legal Fellow
Shared Hope International


12:30 PM-1:30 PM Lunch


1:30 PM- 3:15 PM

Panel III: Trafficking Initiatives in South Florida


Speakers:

Regina Bernadin
Program Manager, International Rescue Committee
Florida Freedom Partnership

Maria Jose Fletcher
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center

Martha Mino
Case Manager, Awareness Campaign & Victims Specialist
Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Janette Mendoza
Program Specialist, Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program,
Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Miami

Sandy Skelaney
Program Manager
Kristi House


3:15 PM- 4:30 PM

Panel IV: Research and Training Needs in the Field and Incipient Responses
Speakers:

Dr. Elzbieta M. Gozdziak
Research Director & Editor, International Migration
Institute for the Study of International Migration, Washington D.C.

Professor Dr. Johnny McGaha
Director, Esperanza Project
Florida Gulf Coast University

Professor Dr. iur. Siegfried Wiessner, LL.M.
Director, LL.M. /J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights
St. Thomas University School of Law

4:30 Wine & Cheese Reception

Very Young Girls final dates on Showtime

The GEMS documentary Very Young Girls only has 4 more airdates, starting tomorrow Feb 5th at 7pm on SH3. Please tune in if you haven't seen it, and please tell your friends to watch it. More info is below...

And again, thank you for getting involved and invested!
************************************************

Very Young Girls, a powerful film that tells the heart-breaking and ultimately inspiring stories of barely adolescent girls who have been seduced, abused, and sold on New York's streets.

Broadcast throughout the country to living rooms, schools, community organizations, and public institutions, Very Young Girls has awakened viewers to the brutal reality of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. Experience this compelling film for yourself, then join GEMS in its heroic efforts to empower sexually exploited girls.

Turn viewing into action

Watch Very Young Girls live or set your DVR.
Check the schedule at right for upcoming airdates on Showtime and its networks, including the next broadcast on Thursday Feb 5th at 7:00 PM on Showtime 3

View anytime on demand. Very Young Girls is available on Showtime anytime now through March 3, 2009.

Host a screening party for friends and family. Register your party with GEMS and our RSVP system will help coordinate your guest list; complete a short post-screening evaluation and receive a free copy of Very Young Girls along with other gifts from GEMS. Visit gems.memberlodge.org to register your event.

Get involved! Visit the GEMS website to donate and learn how you can help end the commercial sexual exploitation of our youth.

Friday, January 30, 2009

CSEC Working Group Meeting

Wednesday
Feb. 11th
2:30pm - 4pm
Kristi House

Please RSVP to sandys@kristihouse.org

Coalition in Tampa to track sex traffickers over Super Bowl weekend

When I do trainings, people often raise their eyebrows when I tell them that in places where there is a large number of transient males, there will be a flourishing adult sex industry and children being exploited in prostitution and pornography. Transient men include tourists, business travelers, attendees at special events such as the Super Bowl, migrant workers, truck drivers and others. I suppose they never considered the connection, but it's quite simple really: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" or in the case below "What happens in Tampa, stays in Tampa." We may behave and care for our own communities because we live there, but when we go somewhere else, we leave the watchful eyes of our neighbors and exploit the land, resources and people of a place to which we don't have a personal / emotional connection or incentive to maintain the integrity of. "We don't sh*! where we sleep", but we will certainly do it where other people sleep and then go home to our nice clean beds the next day. So the connection is clear. Anytime you find yourself in a place that attracts transient men, even if you don't openly see the child exploitation, you can assume that it exists and flourishes, because that's what research across the globe has taught us over the years. Sad fact. I'm happy to hear that FCAHT will be addressing this issue in Tampa. We need to get on board and start planning to do something for the Superbowl in Miami 2010.

-Sandy

****

By WINK News
Jan 29, 2009 at 10:27 PM EST

A local organization is in Tampa trying to track down sex traffickers over Super Bowl weekend.

The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking assists police by pointing them toward potential prostitution rings. The group is also handing out fliers to party-goers, hoping to send a message that human trafficking is alive and real right here in the U.S.

"Every time we have a big event like Super Bowl, you have pimps that move people across the nation to where there is a large activity and a quicker way to make a lot of money," Anna Rodriguez, the non-profit's founder, says.

Leaders and volunteers with the Naples-based organization plan to stay through the Super Bowl weekend.

Tampa authorities report busting 20 people involved in prostitution already this week.

Find this article at:
http://www.winknews.com/news/local/38677447.html

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sex Trafficking Summit draws 150 people

TCPALM.com
Thursday, January 22, 2009

By Monique Mattiace

STUART — About 150 people from agencies across the Treasure Coast gathered at the Treasure Coast Hospice Mayes Center in Stuart for a Sex Trafficking Summit hosted by the Soroptimist International of Stuart Thursday evening to raise awareness for the issue.

The group hopes a task force of some sort will form, said Margaret Richebourg, chair of the Soroptimist International of Stuart.

A 10 minute video of undercover footage of buying and selling young girls in the U.S. kicked off the meeting before the two guest speakers took the stage.

“All of you who reluctantly came here saying it doesn’t happen here, get over it,” said Nola Theiss, guest speaker, former mayor of Sanibel, and executive director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships Inc.

Theiss started her comments with media reports on the arrest of a Port St. Lucie man for trying to swap children for sexual acts - proving that sex trafficking is happening in the area.

“People don’t know it’s around them until they look for it and know what to look for,” Theiss said. “My goal is to inform and desensitize the community so they can do something about it.”

Theiss gave countless accounts where law enforcement agencies have overlooked dozens of sex trafficking victims because they weren’t trained to look for the signs.

“Learning the red flags and recognizing them and demanding local law enforcement to get involved is what needs to be done,” she said.

Guest speaker Linda Smith, former congresswoman and founder of Shared Hope, started fighting sex trafficking after she took a trip to India and saw hundreds of caged girls who were sold to men for sex 40 times a night.

“The undercover videos I found in the U.S. shocked me more than anything I saw around the world,” Smith said.

Smith shared the story of two girls who were tricked into trafficking by the promise of a safe place to live, clothes, freedom, money and more.

One of the girls was taken from her grandmother after the trafficker followed her for months; he sold her for four years around the U.S., took her to truck stops, hotels and forced her to walk the streets for hours. She was arrested over 14 times by law enforcement and was never looked at as a victim, but instead was labeled as a prostitute.

The goal is to communicate with the community. To make law enforcement get trained on how to spot sex traffickers and the victims so the victims don’t get lost in the system, Smith said.

“If you knew a little girl today who was being raped, could you go to sleep tonight? So do something about it,” said Smith.

For more information, about joining a local task force to fight sex trafficking contact the Soroptimist International of Stuart at call (772) 288-9955.

Human Trafficking:

Human trafficking is modern day slavery - forced labor and sex in any form.

Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control their victims.

Florida has the second-highest incidence of human trafficking in the country.

The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14.

Underage girls are the bulk of victims in commercial sex markets – pornography, stripping, escort services and prostitution.

Close to a million people a year are trafficked across borders.

About half of all missing children and runaways may be trafficked.

Human trafficking is a $9 billion to $17 billion international crime second to drug trafficking.

About 400 potential victims of minor sex trafficking has passed through the hands of various agencies.