Monday, January 16, 2012

Sex Trafficing: Hear her story

Jessica's Story: The Story of So Many

The Yakima Herald-Republic

SUNNYSIDE, Yakima County — Neatly stored in a closet of Maria Mojica's one-bedroom apartment are school supplies, clothing and crafts she keeps ready and waiting for her daughter Jessica Estrada.

They've been there for a year.

On Jan. 13, 2011, the teenager cried after getting a mysterious phone call, pushed past Mojica and hopped a fence into missing-child reports and her mother's darkest fears.

Mojica admits she doesn't know for sure, but she suspects Jessica, now 14, is caught up in the sinister world of teen prostitution.

A history of dating older gang members, sightings with men near Yakima motels, social-media pictures in which she looks pregnant — all inconclusive clues of her daughter's life.

"It's like I'm missing half of my heart," she said.

But if Mojica's fears are true, Jessica is part of a sad tale that state officials, police, child-welfare officials and society at large are just beginning to grasp: Children are bought and traded for sex and can't get out. Making things worse, the welfare and justice system in many ways categorizes them as criminals.

"They're victims, first and foremost," said Suzi Carpino, a sex-trafficking case manager for Sunnyside's Promise, a nonprofit youth organization trying to help Mojica and families like hers.

Advocates like Carpino say a new awareness is taking hold, but there's a long way to go.

Congress is now debating whether to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a 2000 law that made human trafficking a federal crime.

Part of the delay has been difficulty quantifying the problem.

The federal government calls human trafficking a $32 billion global industry, tied with arms dealing for second behind the drug trade.

It includes forced or coerced labor, as well as anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 children at risk of sexual exploitation in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, but anti-trafficking advocates are known to criticize even those figures as either over- or underestimated.

No statistics have been compiled for Washington, though a 2008 city of Seattle human-services report estimated that between 300 to 500 children in King County were involved with prostitution, based on records from juvenile court and social-service cases.

New resources for victims have opened, including a long-term residential recovery home in Seattle.

State laws that took effect in 2008 increased penalties for pimps and johns, and this year lawmakers plan to introduce multiple bills to combat trafficking, including minors used on escort websites, according to Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland.

The U.S. Attorney's Western Washington offices have successfully prosecuted at least seven human-trafficking cases within the past two years and average between 20 and 30 cases per year.

See a call for change to read more....

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