How Arizona youth are targeted for sex trafficking

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The Department of Justice cites Phoenix as one of the top sex trafficking jurisdictions in the country. Particularly at risk are minors who are abducted, coerced or enticed into the commercial sex trade.

“The same economic forces that fuel tourism in Arizona also support sex trafficking—warm weather, multiple interstate highways, proximity to the border, short drive to Las Vegas or San Diego, major conference destination and home to many professional sporting events,” according to the Arizona Governor’s Office.

ASU’s Sex Trafficking Intervention Research concludes that sex trafficking in Arizona is on the rise. Facilitated by the Internet, sex trafficking is estimated to be a $12 billion per year industry that has made it as easy to “order a girl as order a pizza,” according to the website.

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Sex trafficking facilitated by the Internet has created a $12 billion annual industry. Sex traffickers often make their first contact with a victim on the Internet.

With the high demand, sex traffickers are constantly recruiting to entice both male and female victims into the industry.

Places they seek victims include schools, bus stations, foster homes, homeless shelters, social media, online video games, parks, playgrounds, restaurants and shopping malls.

Sex trafficking “pimps” will often attempt to form a bond with their victims. “Love bombing” is a powerful technique pioneered by religious cults that is often utilized by sex traffickers: A girl or  boy is showered with gifts and affection before the true intention of exploitation is revealed. By then, it is often too late. The level of psychological manipulation and physical violence is so great that victims feel powerless and trapped.

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Malls are popular places for sex traffickers to approach adolescent boys and girls.

How do pre-teens and teens become victims of sex trafficking?

  • Recruitment by “Romeo boyfriends” who convince them that they love and care for them
  • Kidnapping by a “gorilla pimp” and forced into the life
  • Gang-related prostitution
  • A parent or family member pimps their child for drugs or money
  • Running away and living on the streets and forced to exchange sex for survival

What can parents do to protect their kids?

  • Know where your children are at all times. Sexual predators prey on children who do not have parents or guardians looking out for them.
  • Know what your children are doing online and teach Internet safety.Sex traffickers are masterful at deceiving kids online and often make their initial contact with their victims on the Internet.
  • Teach them about sexual exploitation. Teach them to trust their instincts and what types of behaviors are inappropriate. Give them “What if?” scenarios and discuss how they would handle them.
  • Know the warning signs. Visit TRUSTAZ’s website for a complete list of warning signs for different age groups.

What else can be done?

  • Awareness. The “Blue Campaign” is an Arizona initiative to raise awareness about sex trafficking in our state. The goal is to inform the public about the problem and how to identify victims.
  • Tougher laws. Organizations like TRUSTAZ are calling for tougher sex trafficking laws in our state. They argue that harsher punishments would deter would-be sex traffickers the way that stricter DUI laws have brought down drunk driving rates.
  • Support charities. Give to organizations like ALERT: Arizona League to End Regional Trafficking.
  • Report tips.If you have a tip or suspect sex trafficking, you can report it anonymously to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

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Listen to our 2014 podcast featuring Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research at Arizona State University.