National Press Club

Officials, victims call human sex trafficking, a huge issue in the United States

April 29, 2014 | By Aisha Chowdhry | aishachowdhry@yahoo.com

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, discusses his legislation to combat human sex trafficking as Jessica M., trafficking survivor, Supervisor Don Knabe, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (left), and Herb Perone, chair of the National Press Club’s Newsmakers Committee, look on. Poe, Jessica and Knabe appeared at a Press Club Newsmakers press conference on April 29, 2014.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, discusses his legislation to combat human sex trafficking as Jessica M., trafficking survivor, Supervisor Don Knabe, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (left), and Herb Perone, chair of the National Press Club’s Newsmakers Committee, look on. Poe, Jessica and Knabe appeared at a Press Club Newsmakers press conference on April 29, 2014.

Photo/Image: Julie Fischer McCarter

Human sex trafficking has become a problem for large, urban counties in the United States. It is not just an international issue but a domestic one, which needs to be prioritized, officials and victims of sex trafficking, said at a National Press Club Newsmakers press conference on April 29.

Jessica M., 29, works with the Los Angeles County Probation Department. She mentors commercially sexually-exploited youth and hopes to become a probation officer. Jessica's struggles began at the age of 11. She was raped, beaten and abused by a number of men including the dean of her school when she only 14-years-old.

“Trauma began at an early age,” said Jessica, who, like many other victims, feared no one would believe her when the abuse started.

Young children and adult females are sold to buyers for $50 to thousands of dollars, some through public websites; the younger the child, the higher the cost is. The child abusers and traffickers are partaking in buying activity at all times.

“The sex buyers appeared very unconcerned about being caught,” Jessica said.

Jessica shared her story reminding everyone that sex-trafficking victims need help to cope with basic life skills.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, is the author of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Poe defined sex trafficking as the “kidnapping, hostaging of people, taking them from one place to another for sexual slavery.” He also calls this a human rights issue, which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The primary reason for this human sex trafficking is money, Poe says. “The sex trade of trafficking of children and adult women … there is money involved.”

Drug trafficking, which has become a national issue, happens one at a time, Poe said, whereas in the human sex trafficking business, the “slave master sells a victim more than once," sometimes countless times a day.

Poe says that estimates from a couple of years ago show that there were less than 300 beds available for child trafficking victims. “The key is finding places for those kids,” he said. “We need to bring this one up.”

Don Knabe, the supervisor for the Fourth District County of Los Angeles calls this the “most horrific issue I have dealt with in my political career.”

Knabe stressed that finding funding and keeping children safe from alleged "pimps/rapists" is a challenge.

According to a survey by the National Association of Counties, human sex trafficking is a major problem for 48 percent of the counties with populations greater than 250,000. It is a greater problem for larger counties for children under the age of 18. Forty percent of the counties with populations greater than 250,000 said it has increased, while 51 percent said it has stayed the same.

The survey also identified a link between sex trafficking and minor children living under the foster-care system, group homes or involved in abuse proceedings.

“Sixty-two percent of large counties said there was a strong or somewhat-strong link. We have certainly seen this in Los Angeles County where last year over 80 percent of minors brought in on prostitution charges were already known to us either through our foster care or juvenile-justice systems. Clearly much more must be done to identify vulnerable minors and put prevention programs in place,” Knabe said.

The survey results included responses from 400 counties. The data were balanced to reflect the make-up of the 3,069 counties in the U.S. based on population and geography. Results were split into three population categories: greater than 250,000 to 249,000 and under 50,000. Seventy percent of the counties in the U.S. have populations under 50,000. To view the full results click here.

Knabe also called for a war on sex trafficking.

“It is a priority issue. This is the raping and trafficking of our young kids,” Knabe said.

The federal government would be the best way to deal with it, since that would make it a national issue, Knabe said. In early 2014, he joined with a bi-partisan group of California state legislators to support the ‘War on Child Sex Trafficking’ legislation package. With this legislation, there would be a change in the way sex buyers in California are prosecuted and punished including longer jail time and increased fines.

“I strongly believe that the scumbags responsible for the rape and torture of these young girls for their personal profit should have nothing but the entire book thrown at them in the court of law,” Knabe said.

Jessica recalled how no one ever approached her asking if she needed help when they saw her but she says there are ways you can identify a child sex trafficking victim.

However, most importantly, she says, “This is happening right here in our streets. If people see something, say something, they may just save a life.”