UPDATED: 10:00 pm PST November 8, 2010
“Now that’s a figure that’s as much as 10 years old,” said Truckee Police Chief Nick Sensley, who’s coordinating a new northern California task force that tackles child sex trafficking.
“So there’s a concern as to the rate of growth,” Sensley said. “Drug traffickers seeing the low risk, see the high payback to human trafficking.”
Sensley and other law enforcement agents said child sex slavery is happening in the Bay Area, Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and in the Reno-Tahoe area. Sacramento is a hub for the crime because it’s a pass-through area between the Bay Area and Reno, and is a north to south link between Los Angeles and the Oregon border.
KCRA 3 talked with a victim of the child sex slave industry.
KCRA 3 is calling her “Lauren,” not her real name, to protect her identity.
Lauren was 12 years old when a man first raped her, then sold her for sex.
“He basically told me that if I ever told on him, he would kill me, that kind of stuff,” said Lauren, now a high school graduate and a college student.
Lauren said the man would drop her off on Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento and tell her to walk up and down the street.
“In the beginning, I just ask (men) if they had money, they said yes. I asked them what they want, then it happened,” Lauren said.
She still had braces on her teeth when the man began selling her for sex.
Eventually, the man sold her to another pimp in another city.
“He said that he had a girl that would make him a lot of money,” said Lauren. “He sold me for $1,000.”
She was forced to work the streets in another state.
Lauren was finally rescued from sex trafficking by the FBI, which had been searching for her for some time.
“I have a lot of people who really supported me and wanted me to do well,” she said. “I think the biggest part was realizing it wasn’t my fault.”
Law enforcement officials said the average age of a child being forced into sex slavery is around 14, but they have seen victims as young as 10 or 12 years old.
Public awareness is a problem.
“The predators in this crime, are for the most part, benefiting from the levels of ignorance and passive behavior and disconnect from the issue,” Sensley said.
“It can happen to anyone, anywhere,” he said.
“I think the public has to take ownership of this problem,” U.S. attorney’s office prosecutor Laurel White said. “It truly is an insidious problem that is affecting the well-being of not only these girls, but our whole culture as well.”
White said the men victimizing the girls, by purchasing them, also need to be held accountable.
Lauren, who was prostituted at the age of 12, recalls some of the johns who paid her for sex.
“Some were crazy, I had one guy pretend to be a cop. Like over and over. And I asked him, when he dropped me off, ‘why did he do that?’ He said, ‘I like to see a girl scared,'” she said.
Prosecutor White said the public has to take ownership.
“As a community, we have to be able to clean up the streets and say this is the kind of community we want our children to walk safely and securely through.”
“Many individuals believe my child’s safe, my child’s in school, my child’s a good kid, not going to get into this kind of trouble,” said White. “When in reality, kids are kids and kids sometimes make bad choices.”
She said it is also important to realize this is not a victimless crime.
Lauren agreed and said parents need to be aware of the warning signs.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said. “I didn’t grow up in the ghetto. I didn’t have a big stamp marked on my forehead. Teenagers, young teens, kids, I think most of them are eager to please. If you don’t really have it instilled in them what to look for, what to not listen to from a stranger, it can happen.”
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