Amber Alert can mean missing child

“Amber alert, a child is missing” is the message flashed on an electronic billboard near a busy highway.
Passing motorists take note of the message and hope the child soon will be found unharmed and returned to its home.
Unfortunately, the missing child may be another statistic and never return home. He or she may disappear into the child sex slave market, a market that is thriving in the U.S.
Mike Elam, Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans (O.A.T.H) coalition director, said that when Americans hear about child sex trafficking incidents, they think it is occurring in other parts of the world. They just don’t think it could happen in their community or to them.
‘‘Slave traffickers are focusing on the youth and are especially want middle and upper class whites,’’ Elam said. ‘‘These are the ones who bring the highest prices in the market.’’
Elam admits that even he was unaware of the domestic ring activity until he attended a conference two and one half years ago at Columbia University, New York.
He had gone to discuss the safe house idea for victims in Asia, India, South Africa, Thailand, the Philippines and Caribbean areas.
Instead, he learned that child slavery was alive and thriving in the U.S. because people were unaware that it was happening within the borders of this country.
Raising that awareness is the purpose of the first Child Sex Trafficking Conference set Oct. 22 in Tulsa at the ORU Mabee Center.
Elam, the O.A.T.H. co-founder, said the organization began in July, 2008 and in September the FBI sent a single agent to Oklahoma City to start a task force on the issue. By February, the small group in that area was so booked with cases that additional agents were assigned to help. They are unable to look at Tulsa or other parts of the state.
‘‘People just don’t think it can happen here,’’ Elam said.
International slave traffic victims come from war torn countries, refugee camps, villages, lured by promises of having a better life in the U.S. or Europe. They are promised a good job that will provide them funds for their own livelihood and money to send home to their families.
There is a catch. They must raise a certain amount of money for passage, something they and their families do eagerly.
Investigators have found that many young people are enslaved by people from their own country.
Situations change when they arrive in their designated country.
Traffickers confiscate their passports and tell them that they too have had expenses the person must pay back and they must work a certain number of years to repay that debt.
Not wanting to lose free labor at the end of that time, they tell the girl they have incurred additional expenses and must work even longer.
‘‘Sometimes the woman comes to the U.S. illegally, making her escape over the Mexican border only to be caught by a trafficker, raped, then sold into the sex slave market,’’ Elam said.
‘‘Domestic victims come from several sources for traffickers. The most vulnerable are the runaways and throwaways,’’ he said. Another group comes from middle class and affluent families who are lured via the Internet.
‘‘Some children are groomed at a very young age without knowing what is happening,’’ Elam said. They see a picture of a handsome young man and establish an electronic relationship. Eventually they gain the youngster’s confidence who writes about feelings, especially when a fight occurs with a parent.
‘‘The response is that ‘mom doesn’t understand you, but I do’ and the child is encouraged to meet their friend.
‘‘One third of those young people coming out of the house have never met their ‘‘friend’’ before,’’ Elam said. Some become a statistic.
The National Center on Missing and Exploited Kids reports that an average of 1 million children are missing in America each year. About half are found, but of the 450,000 remaining, an estimated 50,000 are abducted.
‘‘Those reported are reported on amber alerts,’’ Elam said. Others never make that list.
Those are the runaway and throw away kids. Those are the illegals in this country who simply disappear.
‘‘Traffickers know they vulnerable and can pick out those running away from broken homes and abusive situations.
‘‘Once a girl starts trading her body for a place to stay she becomes a candidate for the trafficker,’’ Elam said.

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