Human Trafficking in Oklahoma

The trafficking in children for sex was once thought to be a problem beyond America’s borders. But the FBI and the Justice Department have now started focusing intently on the issue–and what they’ve found is shocking. Thousands of young girls and boys are falling victim to violent pimps, who move them from state to state, which makes it a federal matter. The younger they are, the more they’re worth on the street.

Trafficking is not smuggling. There are several important differences between trafficking and smuggling. Trafficking need not entail the physical movement of a person (but must entail the exploitation of the person for labor or commercial sex).

In 2009 the State Department reported that the US is now the #1 destination for child sex trafficking in the world.

When you consider where Oklahoma is located geographically between these profitable cities and the heavy usage of commerce that flows through I-35 from Houston north and I-40 & I-44 to all points East and West… it becomes reasonable to understand why Oklahoma has so much trafficking and why our kids are vulnerable to the pimps and traffickers.

Traffickers seek out the most vulnerable as their victims. Many are runaways or were previously molested, however, many are lured from loving, caring homes by the promise of jobs or other enticements. ..

According to the State Department children trafficked as sex slaves is the worlds second largest criminal enterprise. Professionals and law enforcement agree that Oklahoma is in a prime location for child sex traffickers, thanks to two interstates that cross the state.

Several of the nations more notable cases happened right here in our state. In 2002 the Pickle case with 52 skilled workers that were brought over from India and forced to live in a compound at the company, were paid less than $2 per hour and had to be rescued by members of a nearby church. In 2004 the FBI conducted a sting operation at Oklahoma truck stops called “Stormy Nights” in which 23 underage girls were rescued from forced prostitution, the youngest of which was only 13. In February 2009, an FBI Task Force working with Innocence Loss rescued several girls from forced prostitution through a Craig’s List sting operation.

Additionally, in 2003, the State Department listed California, New York, Texas and Oklahoma as having the largest number of trafficking survivors receiving federal assistance in our nation.

According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], human trafficking alone generates a staggering $9.5 billion in yearly revenues worldwide. The International Labor Office [ILO] estimates that figure to be $32 billion each year. Moreover, there are more slaves today than any other time in human history. Worldwide estimates are that 27 million men, women, and children, even babies, are in slavery today, at any given time, a number much greater than any other period in recorded history and exponentially growing.

Mark Elam, coalition director of O.A.T.H. (Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans) says the statistics are staggering. There are 27 million known slaves in the world. Of that, 80 percent are women; half are children. There are 170 countries now that buy and sell humans, Elam said. One is America. Why such a demand? Sadly, it’s the resale value. You can only sell a kilo of cocaine once,” Elam said. Humans you can sell again and again and again.

An estimated five million photos and videos of children circulate the internet each day, Elam said. The United States is the number one producer and purchaser of child pornography”. The vulnerable are targeted through many outlets, including online. They are grooming minors through online social networks, Elam said.  The average age of a prostitute is now 14. The average entry age is 12.

With 100,000 children estimated to be in the sex trade in the United States each year, it is clear that the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.

In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions throughout the world.  This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted in 2006.