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Reclaiming the Innocents
Written by Editor   
Monday, 16 January 2006 17:53
These are basic tenets all children, world-wide, deserve. Sadly, this is not always the case. Some children are beaten, raped, and sometimes killed. For those who survive, we cannot restore their innocence. Nor can we restore their perception of safety. In that child's eyes, the world is indeed an unsafe place to be. For these reasons alone, of the crimes that should galvanize--nay. demand--people to collective action, those that are perpetrated against children top the list.

While attending the annual HTCIA conference in the late 1990s I was again painfully reminded of the insidious monster that threatens to devour the innocence of our nations' children. In 2001 a two-year long sting"Operation Avalanche began in 1999, when Postal Inspectors found that a husband and wife in Ft. Worth, TX, were using a Web site to advertise and distribute child pornography. The majority of their business profits came from the subscription sales of child pornography-in just one month, the business grossed as much as $1.4 million. In partnership with the Dallas Police Department's ICAC Task Force, investigators determined that customers could subscribe to child pornography Web sites through a Ft. Worth post office box or via the Internet. The site also had a classified ads section, allowing customers to place or respond to personal ads for child pornography. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's Cyber Tipline received more than 250 complaints against the Web site from citizens around the world."--code name Operation Avalanche--ICAC and the USPS dismantled the largest-known comercial child pornography operation in the nation's history. In 2004, New York Times journalist Peter Landesman, notes that the United States is the leading consumer of child sex slave trafficking"In fact, the United States has become a major importer of sex slaves. Last year, the C.I.A. estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked annually into the United States. The government has not studied how many of these are victims of sex traffickers, but Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, America's largest anti-slavery organization, says that the number is at least 10,000 a year. John Miller, the State Department's director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, conceded: "That figure could be low. What we know is that the number is huge." (Landesman, 2004). The reported numbers, if they are to be believed, are astronomical"Bales estimates that there are 30,000 to 50,000 sex slaves in captivity in the United States at any given time." (Landesman, 2004). This admittedly begs an answer to the question, how is it that a prosperous and civilized country allowed child sex slave trafficking to reach the levels that it has?

Consider however that, as a first world nation, our country is viewed by many as the promised land, thereby making it easy to not only lure"In Eastern European capitals like Kiev and Moscow, dozens of sex-trafficking rings advertise nanny positions in the United States in local newspapers; others claim to be scouting for models and actresses." (Landesman, 2004) unsuspecting victims, but by its very nature--the multi-faceted culture, with its mixed marriages and politically correct, don't ask, don't tell, mentality--hide these victims in plain sight. Recall, Joseph Edward Duncan III was aprehended only after photos of Dylan and Shasta Groene were televised and distributed across several states. Luring unsuspecting victims with empty promises is but one avenue however. Appallingly, and most certainly beyond the pale, some children are sold into sex slavery by the the very people who should be protecting them--their parents"She was angry that the agent who bought her eldest child, Saikun, in 1999 took her to Bangkok, some 460 miles away, rather than a nearby city as promised. It did not concern La Chai that Saikun would be forced to have sex with as many as eight men a day." (Perrin, SF Chronicle, 2002).

Another problem is the alleged involvement of everything from government officials, to lawyers, doctors, law enforcement, and mental health workers, thereby supporting the victims' perception that there is no way out"Who can expect a young woman trafficked into the U.S., trapped in a foreign culture, perhaps unable to speak English, physically and emotionally abused and perhaps drug-addicted, to ask for help from a police officer, who more likely than not will look at her as a criminal and an illegal alien? Even Andrea, who was born in the United States and spoke English, says she never thought of escaping, "because what's out there? What's out there was scarier. We had customers who were police, so you were not going to go talk to a cop. We had this customer from Nevada who was a child psychologist, so you're not going to go talk to a social worker. So who are you going to talk to?" (Landesman, 2004). Or back, for that matter. Because in some instances the victims' culture brands them "damaged goods"The families don't want them back," Sister Veronica, a nun who helps run a rescue mission for trafficked prostitutes in an old church in Mexico City, told me. "They're shunned." (Landesman, 2004)" and in others, threats to harm their families become the ties that bind. The less obvious though equally profound question, once they escape, where do they go? They are indeed strangers in a strange land--one that is paradoxically empathetic and indifferent.

Needless to say, combatting this very real problem is no small feat. It is presently being addressed from numerous angles and on different levels. In 2004, HR3913 was introduced to the House of Representatives, 108th Congress. HR3913, among other things, calls for the death penalty for "kingpins of child sex slave trafficking enterprises." The government also has a special visa program for trafficking victims as well as safe houses operating throughout the country. Identifying, investigating, and rescuing the victims, as well as proscuting the perpetrators is another story altogether.

Enter the media. In February 2005, 48 Hours televised "Inside the Dark World of Sex SlavesPosing as traffickers from America, 48 Hours crews went undercover, hoping to rescue a victim of this insidious industry. To infiltrate this world, crews hired streetwise journalists Paul Radu and Daniel Neamu as guides.." Correspondent, Peter van Sant infiltrated a sex slave trafficking ring in Bucharest, culminating in the purchaseOnce in the car, 48 Hours hands over the rest of the cash. In less time than it takes to buy groceries, 48 Hours had bought a human being. of a young woman. After secreting her away to a safe-house, they returned stateside for a tour down American sex-slave lane, resulting in the rescue of one victim who testified against the CarretoJosue Flores Carreto, Gerardo Flores Carreto and Daniel Perez Alonso -- all Mexican nationals -- admitted that for more than a decade, beginning in 1991, they recruited young, uneducated Mexican women from impoverished backgrounds, smuggled them from Mexico to the United States and forced them to engage in prostitution. family--a group ICE had been attempting to dismantle for years. The other whose desperate and yet, courageous move, landed sex slave trader Alexander Rashkovsky in a California prison. In a Chicago Sun Times Crime, Inc. special, Federal Courts Reporter, Steve Warmbir tells a similar tragic story.

While the media continues to educate the public, law enforcement tenaciously pursues traffickers. In July 2005, a task force of 400 local and federal officers raided several San Francisco brothels suspected in sex slave trafficking. The raid was the culmination of a nine-month investigation code-named, Operation Gilded CageThe San Francisco sex trade ring had set up an elaborate operation that used a travel agency in the city to entice and bring in young women from Korea and a cab company to move them around, investigators said.. It will take more than our legal system and the media to beat this monster however. It will take people from all walks of life coming together to protect the planet's most precious hope for the future. To reclaim the innocents.

 

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