Sex trafficking no longer just a foreign problem

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    Ricky Davis of Fort Worth attended church the morning of Aug. 19, 2012, with a family who considered him to be an uncle-like figure to their 12-year-old daughter.

    After church, Davis invited the 12-year-old girl over to his east Fort Worth house where he raped her and then took her to an East Lancaster bar where he tried selling her for $50.

    It took a jury 19 minutes to convict Davis of human trafficking, sentencing him to 99 years in prison. Davis’ case was one of the first human trafficking cases to be prosecuted in Tarrant County.

    The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that 2013 was a record-breaking year for prosecuting sex trafficking cases in the U.S.

    Modern Day Slavery

    With profits of an estimated $32 billion a year, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world.

    And according to the Fort Worth Sex Crimes Unit, it’s growing locally.

    During the Final Four Tournament held in Arlington, Texas, earlier this April, the FBI and North Texas task force arrested four pimps, 18 Johns and three people who solicited children for sex trafficking on the Internet

    This task force included 18 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, according to the Dallas-Morning News‘ website.

    Det. Librado Luevanos said the Fort Worth Police Department had a heavy involvement in the bust.

    “The biggest problem we face is getting people to believe that [sex trafficking] actually goes on right here,” Luevanos said.

    Luevanos has been working in the Sex Crimes unit of the Fort Worth Police for just a year and has already seen several sex trafficking cases.

    “Its hard to put a number on the amount of cases we see per year,” he said. “It’s kind of like homicide — you can’t predict these kinds of things.”

    Luevanos and Sgt. Mike Williams of the Fort Worth Sex Crime unit, both say myths and social taboos are some of the biggest obstacles they must overcome in tracking down sex trafficking crimes.

    “Most people are unaware that sex trafficking is happening in their town when in fact, it is,” Williams said. “They also fail to understand the differences between a prostitute and a trafficking victim.”

    Williams and Luevanos said male and female prostitutes enter the sex trade willingly and get to keep most of the money they earn. Victims of trafficking are forced or manipulated into the trade and get paid little – or not at all.

    Additionally, Texas law defines any persons under 18 involved in sex crimes as victims of sex trafficking.

    Luevanos said sex trafficking crimes are hard to track and identify.

    “They aren’t like other offenses where people call it in,” he said. ”Most citizens aren’t even aware that sex trafficking is going on.”

    Sex trafficking rings typically operate in largely secretive and tight-knit communities, Luevanos said.

    “You also have the issue of the victims being scared to come forward or to follow through with pressing charges,” he said. “We find that they are either being threatened by a pimp-type figure or they are embarrassed of what has happened to them.”

    The Supplied

    Of the estimated 300,000 American children enticed into sex trafficking each year, 25 percent come from Texas, according to San Antonio Express-News.

    Williams said the average age of a woman entering sex trafficking is 12 to 13-years-old.

    Sex traffickers victimize all ages, races, social classes and income levels, Williams said.

    “You could have the classic runaway or the mayor’s daughter — this criminal industry doesn’t care where you come from,” he said.

    Luevanos said although it touches every demographic, some are at higher risk than others.

    “Runaways have a very high risk of getting taken advantage of by a pimp,” Luevanos said. “Statistically, a teen runaway will be approached by a pimp within their first 48 hours of being on the streets.”

    Luevanos and Williams said they face even more obstacles from the growing popularity of social media sites.

    “What we see most in Fort Worth is children being sold into the trade by a parent or legal guardian or victims being solicited through social media sites like backpage.com,” Luevanos said.

    Luevanos said this issue may be hard for society to grasp because of the physiological abuse and manipulation a victim goes through.

    “It’s even hard for us to get the victims out sometimes,” Luevanos said.

    “There is a lot of brainwashing, mental and physical abuse going on. These victims have a different perception of life and the criminal industry they are involved in,” he said.

    Williams said they run into victims of sex trafficking trying to get out of the harshest part of the trade by helping the pimps solicit young girls.

    “These women grow up in the trade,” Williams said. “This is the only life they know.”

    “So to stop being the bottom girl that’s most abused, they’ll try and rise up on the totem pole and bargaining with the pimps by tricking young girls into the industry,” he said.

    A Survivor

    Felicia Hyde can relate.

    Growing up in the trade, Felicia could encourage girls she meet at clubs or other girls stripping at the clubs to get into prostitution.

    Hyde’s unhealthy relationship with sex began at a very young age.

    Being one of the only black families in a middle class Irving suburb, Hyde said from the outside looking in everything seemed normal.

    “My mom was very big on appearances, so on the outside everything appeared fine,” Hyde said. “But in reality my stepfather was [sexually] abusing me, my mother was ignoring it and drug use played a huge role in my home life,”

    “I would beg my mom not to let my stepfather to put me to bed, and I started wearing shorts under my night gown, stuff like that, but she was too far in denial to stop it,” she said.

    Hyde learned to cope by downplaying the abuse and began manipulating her stepfather into giving her money or other material things in turn for her silence.

    “He dehumanized me, so I did the same thing to him. I manipulated him and through this I related material things or money with sex,” Hyde said.

    As Hyde grew up, sexual abuse continued with family friends and strangers. Hyde said she saw her first John —a person buying sex— when she was 15 or 16.

    He was a friend’s uncle and drug dealer, she said.

    “I just remember he told me I was so pretty,” Hyde said. “He took me to where all the ‘pretty girls’ were, which was a strip club.”

    “And I thought one day, I’m going to be a pretty girl like that,” she said.

    The John took Felicia to a motel room and raped her multiple times throughout the night, in-between doing lines of cocaine.

    “I woke up, he was gone, and I didn’t know where I was, but there was money on the bedside table,” she said.

    Felicia said she remembers getting caught having sex by the police multiple times, but they never asked her about her age or how she got into these sexual situations.  

    “I remember them staring at my naked body,” Felicia said. “None of them would give me clothes to wear but they made sexual comments about me.”

    “Never asked for my ID, never asked if I was getting raped, never asked if I was OK,” she said.

    Once Felicia graduated high school, she attended Athens State University in Athens, Alabama, for about a year before coming back home, where she later worked at a strip club.

    ”Strip clubs are set up to encourage prostitution,” she said. “Yeah, you’re making a lot of money on tips, but you have to tip out everyone in the club.”

    Felicia said sometimes strippers work all night and make nothing at all. At the end of their shift, they have to split their tips with the club, the DJs, the bartenders and the bouncers.

    And they have to pay the ‘house mother’ – the woman who stays backstage to manage the strippers.

    “So because of this you are willing to do a little extra for customers,” she said.

    This system causes the strippers to break the rules and let the customers do more than just look at them, Hyde said.

    She added sometimes giving the customer a little more can make a difference between paying the rent that month or not.

    One time, a strip club asked Hyde to work in Mexico City for a month. It sounded like a fun trip until she got there.

    Hyde said her typical workday was from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., and she was still expected to pay out everyone who worked at this club.

    “We were literally hustling, especially since pesos didn’t make me much money,” she said.

    Hyde was under the impression that she would be working in Mexico for a few weeks. Instead the owners took her driver’s license and her ticket back home, promising to give them back once she had made enough money.

    After living this lifestyle for years, Hyde broke out.

    Solution

    Vanessa Bouché, assistant professor of political science at TCU with a research emphasis in human trafficking, said the main issue with sex trafficking is eliminating the demand for it.

    “Our culture tends to turn to victim-blaming,” Bouché said, “which does nothing to help the prostituted women or to put an end to this epidemic.”

    Texas was among one of the first states to enforce harsher punishments for sex traffickers, but Bouché said it is up to each county to enforce these laws.

    Williams said the sex trafficking law in Texas is good, but if he could make a few changes, he would.

    “Right now if a victim makes an outcry and then later on recalls the original statement, than the state drops the case and does not investigate,” Williams said.

    “With all of the abuse and manipulation that goes on, I don’t think that’s right.”

    Williams added the department needs to be expanded.

    “We also need to expand the department,” he said. “We only have one investigator for sex trafficking right now.”

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