1) Does human trafficking really happen in Oklahoma?
Yes! In fact, several of the nations more notable cases happened right here in our state. In the 2002 Pickle case, 52 skilled workers were brought over from India and forced to live in a compound at the company. They were paid less than $3 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. 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 2009 the largest child sex trafficking ring in the Southwest operating in multiple states including Oklahoma with a Tulsa man charged with conspiracy to traffic women and children for the purpose of commercialized sex. In 2011 the largest prostitution ring operating in Oklahoma City was found to be recruiting children and forcing them to prostitute. Also in 2011 the brutal murder of Oklahoma teen Carina Saunders was discovered by homicide investigators to have been the work of a drug and human trafficking ring.
2) How much of this is really going on in our state?
This is such a new issue to everyone that even our professionals in law enforcement and victim services do not have specific numbers available. Studies are underway by the University of Oklahoma and other key organizations to determine to what extent this crime affects our citizens. To give you some idea of what we do know: FBI’s Innocent Images, ICE Cyber Crimes, OSBI Internet Crimes Against Children and the Oklahoma City Police Predator Unit have multiple cases around the state occurring in almost every county. These agencies do not have the manpower to investigate all the probable cases that are coming in and must prioritize to act on those that are most severe in nature.
One of the Special Agents on the OKC Human Trafficking (HT) Task Force reported that we have so many cases in the restaurant, hotel, and farming industry that it is not financially possible to prosecute all of the cases. Another lead officer on the task force reported at a 2010 meeting that we have over 100 child sex trafficking cases opened in that year of investigative operations. Recently, another undercover officer reported that a great number of our prostitution cases are not being identified or worked properly…indicating that some of them may include victims of HT.
3) What is the reason for so much activity in Oklahoma?
Human slavery has always had some common factors to its habits of business: Port Cities and Trade Routes. The main US port cities for trafficked humans are Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Atlanta and New York. The “Trade Routes” are our interstate highways. The Mexican /US border is the easiest and most affordable way for criminals to bring foreign national victims into our nation. In 2009 the State Department reported that the US is now the #1 destination for child sex trafficking in the world.
In 2010 Houston was recognized as the #1 city for child sex trafficking, Las Vegas #2 and Atlanta #3. Kansas City and St Louis are also in the top 10. One of the primary operations of traffickers is to move their victims around to avoid detection and to meet the demand found in profitable cities. 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.
4) Who are the actual victims of human trafficking?
There are six classifications of victims with two categories and multiple types of HT that occur in Oklahoma. Men & women, immigrants & US citizens, boys & girls–all subjected to this crime. The two main categories are foreign nationals and US citizens. The types of HT crimes include domestic servitude (housekeepers, nannies), forced labor, debt bondage, peonage, sex trafficking for prostitution, all minors found working in the sex industry, intimate partner trafficking (family member is the trafficker), illegal baby adoptions, child brides and the production or distribution of child pornography.
5) What is human trafficking not? (The Misconceptions)
Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is not something that just happens in poor countries far from here—HT, like all other commerce, is driven by demand. Wealthy people in European countries and the United States are major importers of this profitable industry. TIP is not smuggling. Smuggling is a crime against our borders and TIP is a crime against a person. However, it has become more common in recent years for immigrants being smuggled illegally into our nation to also become victims of HT.
TIP is not “illegal workers”, that is a wage and hour labor violation or federal visa violation issue.
TIP is not prostitution – prostitution is defined as an adult male or female that consensually trades their sexual services for money or drugs, chooses who to do it with, negotiates how much to charge and keeps the money. When a person preforms the commercial act of prostitution under the control of a pimp, is not allowed to quit or work for herself/himself, does not get to keep the money earned and is threatened or abused – that issue of control makes it a trafficking situation. All minors in the commercial sex industry are victims of trafficking.
TIP is not just an immigration issue–far more US victims have been discovered here in our country than foreigners. TIP is not just about illegal aliens. Many of the nation’s largest cases involve hundreds of legal foreign nationals who are here as guest workers of the US visa program.
TIP is not the crime of stalking, kidnapping, sexual assault, molestation, rape, physical abuse, psychological abuse, felonious restraint, unpaid migrant workers, hour and wage labor issues or murder. However, traffickers often perpetrate one or more, if not all, of these other crimes against their victims.
6) What are the National statistics of human trafficking?
HT cases have been prosecuted in all 50 states and most major cities. Bureau of Justice Affairs funded 42 HT Task Force cities around the nation to lead the fight against human trafficking. Several thousand traffickers and pimps have been arrested and convicted with most receiving 10 to 20 years and many others receiving 40 years or more in prison. To date, 83% of the cases prosecuted have been sex trafficking and 17% labor trafficking. The majority of foreign national victims are either Hispanic, Asian or Eastern European.
The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children receives reports of a missing child every 30 seconds in America. Estimates are that 500,000 Hispanic children go missing each year in the US but are not reported to authorities. Around 2 million children run away from home each year and studies have shown that over 70% of these vulnerable kids are coerced into survival sex. From those surviving by trading sex for food, drugs and places to stay, pimps and traffickers recruit up to half of them into sex trafficking. Shared Hope International estimates that 300,000 U.S. kids become victims of the commercial sex industry every year.