Opinion

Is There An End To Child Sex Trafficking?

The first human trafficking guilty verdict in Sarasota Florida was handed down last week, to Ronald McBride III, 22, for six felony counts, one of which was human trafficking. After the jury’s conviction, McBride could face up to life in prison. It is a milestone case for the Sarasota Police Department.

According to news reports the trafficker began “grooming the victim in November 2015, on how to trade her body for drugs and money.” The young woman was in her twenties receiving counseling for drug addiction at the time she met McBride. Instead, McBride got the victim hooked on heroine and crack cocaine.

The girl told the Sarasota police, “If she didn’t make a certain amount of money for a sexual act, McBride would beat her or have another girl beat her. I have to give all the money I make to McBride because he says he owns me.” On the day she escaped, December 29, 2015, McBride beat her with a gun and told her he would come back to kill her. After the beating, she managed to run away nearby U.S. 41. A passerby found her crouched in a fetal position on the ground and called the police. This is a victory for the Sarasota Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office in the 12th Judicial Circuit given the difficulty in convicting a street level pimp. McBride will be sentenced September 16, 2016.  

In the United States more than one million children are trafficked every year.

The global figure is far higher surpassing the 20 million mark according to most recent statistics. Why? After a decade researching the issue of human trafficking, I published a book to help explain the problem.  

TrafficKing tells the story of the most protracted child sex trafficking case in U.S. legal history. Jeffrey E. Epstein, a Wall Street billionaire, was arrested in 2005.  More than two-dozen victims testified against him. After a two-year federal investigation he received a Non Prosecution Agreement in 2007 for two counts of solicitation of prostitution with a minor. Why did he receive such a sweetheart deal given the number of victims who testified? Why wasn’t Mr. Epstein prosecuted under the federal law, Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) like most sex traffickers? Irrespective of the Non Prosecution Agreement, Mr. Epstein remains a registered level three sex offender for life.

Epstein’s human trafficking case set a precedent. Since 2007, a handful of traffickers arrested in Florida for perpetrating the same or similar crimes have attempted to benefit from Epstein’s defense. Their defense in court has been to claim the court was prejudicial based on their different ethnicity, lack of economic resources, and nonexistent political connections. It appears the punishment applied to these men has been far more stringent than Epstein’s Non Prosecution Agreement. This raises an important legal question. Are there two separate systems of justice in the United States? One for the rich and powerful, for men such as Epstein who can afford to live on a private island and rub shoulders with former presidents; and one for the common people who can barely eke out a living?

If you are following the Epstein case it seems that way. Perhaps the system needs an overhaul and Epstein’s case might just be the one to pave the way. For more than eleven years, several Epstein related cases have continued to grace the U.S. courts. Since 2007, multiple civil cases and related cases were filed. Today, three Epstein related cases are pending, two in Florida and one in New York. Epstein’s criminal case implicated several high profile personalities and international leaders in the fields of politics, business, academia, including a British Prince.

Since “TrafficKing” was published several victims have reached out asking for help. Others have offered support to help our organization, Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking www.atrvt.org, stop human trafficking. Every day, in every state across the country heinous human trafficking stories appear in newspapers, on-line journals, television, radio and other digital outlets.

Human trafficking has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Why? Perhaps one reason is the overwhelming demand and powerful industry of pornography — child pornography specifically. Another could be the rise and power of the pedophile networks in the United States.

The issue of human trafficking has many layers and is complex. Human traffickers can be individuals working for large trafficking networks such as the: Chinese, Colombian, Mexican, Russian, Ukrainian, and the United States’ own MS (Mara Salvatrucha) Cartels, or they can be small, one man, ‘mom and pop’ operators or inner city pimps. There are hundreds if not thousands of operators trafficking children across state lines. A number of traffickers have gone as far as tattooing a victim’s neck in order to claim the girl as property. The average age of entry for a trafficked child in the U.S. is 12. The reason is simple: It is a moneymaking enterprise that has a finite expiry date. That is one reason why traffickers target young children. Another reason is, the younger the child the greater the profit.

One of the biggest impediments for law enforcement remains identification and tracking. Most traffickers hide behind a veil of secrecy called the Internet while others disappear behind the lesser-known “dark net.” Behind this curtain traffickers and perpetrators buy, sell and trade children for sex via the better known social media spaces including: Backpage, Craigslist, Facebook and other platforms that cater to pedophile networks.  

According to Telecrunch, “On any 18 minute period there are 11 million viewers on Facebook on average.” Social Bakers, another forecasting company, claims, “Facebook earns $2.5 billion a quarter from mobile advertising.” The reason the sites are popular with traffickers is because social media companies and advertisers know everything about their targeted audience and in many instances have decided to “turn the other way.”

For example, an ad on Facebook can sell for as low as five cents while the average cost of a Facebook ad is approximately five dollars per 1000-targeted viewers. All social media platforms are after the same thing: likes and shares which is exactly what a human trafficker wants. Unlike Facebook, “most of Craigslist’s revenue comes from job ads, adult service ads, and New York real estate listings, enabling the remainder of Craigslist’s services … to be available to users for free.” While Craigslist charges $75 for a job listing, approximately $10 an ad for ‘therapeutic services’ in the U.S., reposts of live ads are $5 dollars. MasterCard and Visa are accepted.  

There is no doubt the cost of advertising, accessibility to a wide audience, and low risk operation continue to attract and drive traffickers to online platform sites to prostitute children. Law enforcement confronts ever-greater challenges today. These include, how to identify and track victims and human traffickers online and on the street. It is a fact that most traffickers continuously move their victims from one state to another to prevent detection and prosecution. Secondly, how to protect at-risk victims and thirdly, where to house survivors after they have been rescued. There is a tremendous dearth of short and long term housing for survivors in every city of the United States. This situation prevents many victims from attempting to escape the clutches of their predators and lands them right back in their hands.

Another important challenge is data collection. If you can’t measure a problem you can’t solve the problem. Most law enforcement officials and congressional leaders do not have accurate statistics reflecting the increase in demand of trafficked victims. As a result, it is easier for them to sweep the problem under the rug, not lobby Congress for state and federal funding and be free of the responsibility and accountability to the court of public opinion. Some government officials even claim the problem is vastly exaggerated or does not exist at all.

One thing is certain, human trafficking exists. It exists on a massive scale in the United States, across all levels of the socio economic ladder and for several reasons: lust, money, power, and influence. It is time to shine a spotlight on human trafficking and put an end to child sex slavery. The book, TrafficKing and the Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking hope to accomplish just that.