Sex trafficking in the Valley: let’s talk

September 14, 2013

One in 20 men in the Valley buy sex.

At an East Valley Women and Politics meeting Tuesday night, presenter Katie Resendiz revealed that fact, leaving the room in stunned silence.

About 30 politically engaged women met at Superstition Springs Golf Club in Mesa to learn about sex trafficking in the Phoenix metro area.

East Valley Women and Politics is an organization of women who aim to educate themselves on policy and legislative issues, according to Jill Benza, one of the group’s founders.

The meeting centered on a presentation by Resendiz, the program director for Training and Resources United to Stop Trafficking (TRUST) and Sgt. Domenick Kaufman, a 17-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department who supervises investigations that involve sex crime.

After drugs, sex trafficking is the second largest moneymaker for organized crime, according to Kaufman. But victims of sex trafficking are not like drugs in that they are not used up after a customer has sex with them.

“I once heard a former pimp jokingly refer to his girls as a sustainable product because he could use them again and again and again,” said Resendiz.

One of the event organizers, Paula Wirth, worried that members would be turned off by Tuesday night’s topic.

“The people that are here will be touched in a powerful way,” she said in an interview. “I just hope that tonight’s topic didn’t scare some away, because it’s not a pretty topic.”

About 35 women filled the room, and the presentation sparked discussions about what they could do to combat the issue.

“One of the issues with trafficking is that it’s not something we want to talk about as a community,” said Resendiz. “We’re just starting to talk about it at community meetings like this.”

Research on sex trafficking is fairly new, said Resendiz. In the past, police focused on arresting the victims, but now they focus on prosecuting the trafficker and the buyer, said Kaufman who is part of a project to build coalitions and train enforcement officers about trafficking.

Resendiz and Kaufman asked participants to develop personal definitions of sex trafficking after giving their own examples.

“To me, sex trafficking is child rape for profit, plain and simple,” said Kaufman. “When you talk about not a minor child, it’s rape for profit.”

Resendiz defined sex trafficking as slavery.

“We teach our students about slavery prior to the Civil War,” said Resendiz. “But there are more slaves now in the world today at this very moment than there were in the entire combined history of legalized slavery.”

The federal definition of human trafficking, as outlined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt-bondage, or slavery,” said Resendiz.

One audience member said people told her that sex trafficking is overblown in the media.

“How many is too many?” Resendiz said. “How many is enough?”

People don’t realize how prevalent sex trafficking is because it’s not walking up and down Main Street, Kaufman said. Much of it happens online.

“We just gave strangers the key to our house,” said Kaufman referring to the Internet.

The main page for sex trafficking is a website called Backpage, said Kaufman. It is similar to Craigslist’s old personal ad section.

Why is Backpage still legal, one audience member asked.

The main argument made is freedom of speech, said Resendiz. It’s a legislative issue that the police can’t do much about.

“Do you know who can do a lot and be really loud and stomp their feet?” asked Resendiz. “A group of thirty women who are involved in politics and have an interest in the subject.”

Both presenters urged the women to talk with family and friends.

“These are poor girls, rich girls from broken homes, in and out of foster care, to middle class, hard working, good, grounded families that get caught up in this to the very wealthy,” said Kaufman. “These traffickers don’t discriminate.”

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