‘Dirty little secret’ infecting state

A ‘‘dirty little secret’’ is infecting U.S. borders and Oklahoma and human sex traffickers want it kept that way.
The Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans (O.A.T.H.) goal, however, is to tell people about the crime as one way of combating it.
Until it is stopped, those involved in the sex slave industry will continue to reap the rewards of a billion dollar industry that authorities expect eventually will surpass the already lucrative drug business.
Sex trafficking victims — girls and boys — that have been rescued are as young as 13 years old, though some have been identified as 11 years old.
Despite these statistics, authorities indicated that the traffickers are targeting even younger children.
‘Sex trafficking is a little-known activity in this state, yet it is present,’’ according to Mark Elam, O.A.T.H. coalition director. ‘‘Interstates 35 and 40 are pipelines that traffickers use to carry the victims from Houston, ranked number one in the nation to other areas like Kansas City, also top-ranked in this type of activity. It just makes sense that they would establish similar operations en route to other destinations.’’
‘‘At one time, Oklahoma was among the top four states in the slave traffic business, behind Texas, California and New York,’’Elam said. ‘‘Now, because other states are becoming more aware of the issue, Oklahoma has slipped to number seven among the top 10 in the nation. Leaders in child sex traffic in 2009 are identified as Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Kansas City.
Americans generally are unaware of the trafficking, thinking that victims are in other parts of the world, in China, Japan, Thailand and Africa, according to Elam. The reality is there is a huge domestic market where children from American families are lured into the sex slavery trap. The only way to combat this problem is for Americans to be aware it really is happening in the U.S. and in Oklahoma.
A look at the sex trafficking issue was the topic at the recent Human Trafficking Awareness conference at Oral Roberts University. A similar conference was scheduled in Oklahoma City.
Conference participants included Myste French, a masters degree candidate at Portland State University and a Social Work intern with Catholic Charities of Oregon’s El Programa Hispano; Sgt. Chris Burchell, A Texas Ranger working on a variety of issues from immigrant trafficking, gangs and immigrants, and Elam.
Others were Jim Windsor, FBI special agent; Mike Beavers, FBI special agent, and Robert Perjatel, ICE special agent office of investigation.
The first presenter was Theresa Flores, a victim recruited into prostitution at 15, who told how she was drugged, raped and blackmailed to keep her silent.
It was another high school student who set the trap and maintain the pressure by watching her at work and at home. He would call on her private telephone line at midnight telling her to join him immediately. She would be taken to different locations and forced to have sex multiple times with men.
Then came threats against her family that ensured she would respond when contacted by the pimp who held her in bondage. She escaped two years later when her father was transferred to another part of the country.
But it would be a quarter century later before she felt she could talk about what happened to her because she thought she alone had that terrifying and humiliating experience.
Flores has written about her experience. Works include ‘‘The Sacred Bath: An American Teen’s Story of Modern Day Slavery,’’, ‘‘Spiritual Parenting,’’ in Dream Weaver Magazine and an international work, ‘‘Child Slavery Now Conference, Presenter, Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation’’ at the University of Hull in England.
Burchell made it clear during his talks that anyone who thinks they might have found someone who would classify as a sex slave should not make a rescue attempt, but rather contact authorities.
People involved in these rings are killers and don’t think twice, he said.
Challenges to take are unexpected.
Dr. Mark Rutland has that first-hand knowledge.
Rutland, ORU president, has established a foundation to help girls freed from the slave traffic in Thailand.
Rutland said he took action after ‘‘I railed in my self righteous American attitude’’ about the sex slavery issue in Thailand to a native pastor that someone needed to be done about the problem in that country.
Rutland will always remember the response.
‘‘The pastor simply pointed his finger at me and said, ‘you are somebody, aren’t you?’’’
That was the beginning of the House of Grace in the Golden Triangle in Thailand in 1986 that began with one flat and now has grown to more than 13 buildings on two campuses.
Rutland noted that these Thai girls — women — want help and will prove themselves when given a chance. Recently three women who had been in the House of Grace facilities had earned law degrees, an education paid for by the ministry.
The House of Grace Ministry also has adopted a new slogan, ‘‘you are someone’’, following the Thai pastor’s earlier charge.
While Rutland detailed the ministry’s successes, he referred back to the growing problem in America, noting that for every thousand people who know about the slave traffic, there are hundreds of thousands, even millions who don’t.
American victims come from every economic strata with the educated, middle and upper class particularly targeted, Burchell said.
Flores, for example, was a petite blonde who later learned traffickers had targeted her the day she walked into her new high school in Detroit.
Selling children is the number one thing on the black market that is growing bigger each day, Elam said. It is only after people become aware of this activity can they start making changes. It will take laws and training to make that happen. It will take counseling for the victims and the perpetrators also will need psychological help to break that need.
Sex crime victims aren’t calling 9-1-1 for assistance, he said. They can’t. They are held in such psychological bondage that they are unable to help themselves. They live in fear for their life and safety of their family.
Oklahoma isn’t alone and has dropped from number three to number seven in the nation with the sex slave problem. The problem is compounded because of interstates that cross the state.
Ironically, religious attitudes in the Midwest compound the problem, Elam said. Predators love religious areas because people become so gullible, trusting and don’t think anything could happen to them.
‘‘The attitude of discussing sex is a big no, no and it can’t be talked about. As a result, it gives predators an automatic hiding place. Look at the scandal that hit the Catholic Church. It is that don’t talk attitude that sets the stage for the child abuse incidents that are increasing in this state,’’ Elam said.
The national telephone number to report suspected human trafficking is 888-3737-888. Callers remain anonymous and the information is sent to the agency where the incident occurred.
Elam can be contacted at 918-855-1764 or 405-523-3508.

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