Human trafficking a growing problem

Human trafficking of young people for sex is being identified as a growing problem for law enforcement and social service agencies in Oklahoma and the nation.
Mark Elam, coalition director for Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans said most Americans think the sex-for-sale trade happens in Asia, Africa or other third world countries.
‘‘Actually, the reverse is true, because there is a huge demand for American girls and boys, especially those just reaching puberty and their service is the most expensive in the marketplace,’’ Elam said.
When they are found their case often is misdiagnosed by social workers focused on the reason they came to the agency. The worker wasn’t aware of the incidents and didn’t know which additional questions to ask when reviewing the case.
Raising that awareness is why O.A.T.H. is sponsoring the first conference on human trafficking at the Oral Roberts University Mabee Center.
Sponsors are the Oral Roberts University Social Work Program and O.A.T.H.
The program begins at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 21 with a call and response film on the subject followed by a community panel discussion at 8 p.m. That discussion will include a presentation by an FBI agent working on cases. The evening session is free and open to the public.
Sessions begin at 9 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 22 with the presentation by Theresa Flores, a victim. Local issues will be discussed at noon by FBI agents.
Pending six hours of CEU credits could be available for law enforcement officers, probation and parole officers, social workers, counselors and psychologists.
Admission is $25 per adult and can be sent to O.A.T.H., Oklahoma Impact, P.O. Box 2545, Claremore, Ok., 74018.
Participants will learn about available resources involving specific treatment methodologies effective in helping victims of child sex trafficking; learn about resources, legal, social service and religious, available to address both victims and perpetrators of child sex trafficking in Oklahoma, and have the opportunity to engage in ongoing collaboration and networking regarding child sex trafficking in the state.
‘‘Sex trafficking is a little-known activity in this state, yet it is present,’’ Elam said. ‘‘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 enroute 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 child sex traffic in 2009 identified as Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Kansas City as the top cities.
‘‘Tulsa has a problem, but it has not clearly been identified,’’ Elam said. ‘‘This city looks at itself differently than other areas in the state and doesn’t think there is a problem. There was a time when officials declared there were no gangs in Tulsa.’’
Oklahoma City officials acknowledge there is a problem and law enforcement as well as social service agencies are trying to identify and solve the problem.
Child sex trafficking was unknown by U.S. authorities until late in the 20th Century.
‘‘It was in 1998 during a sting raid in Florida that officials learned about young — 13 and 14-years-old — Hispanic girls being brought into this country by traffickers,’’ Elam said. ‘‘They were brought here to service Hispanic workers.’’
‘‘It took time to get funding from the federal government for these victims, but authorities, upon further investigation, found the activity strongest in port of entry cities, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Vancouver, Canada,’’ Elam said. International visitors flying into these cities could ‘‘order’’ what they wanted and that person would be brought to them.
At first the market was for 18 to 24-year-olds, then it moved to children around 14, Elam continued. ‘‘Initially, authorities thought they were dealing with an international market and later learned that a large domestic trafficking market also existed.’’
Domestic victims didn’t receive help initially because federal funding was designated for those affected by the international market in this country, he said. It was in 2007 that funding was included for helping domestic victims.
Now the effort is to help identify victims, develop a public awareness of the problem, train law enforcement and social service agencies to identify and deal with victims, and collaborate with law enforcement to find and assist victims.

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