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Child sex slavery growing U.S. problem

By Jesse Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 4, 2009 - 10:04:29 AM

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Shaniya Davis
‘Every year nearly 300,000 children are at risk to sexual exploitation in the U.S. and an estimated 500,000 incidents are not reported. This has made the U.S. the number one destination for child sex trafficking in the world. ’
(FinalCall.com) - The tragic case of five-year-old Shaniya Davis, whose funeral was paid for by pro basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, brought focus to the problems of sexual selling and children.

Her mother, Antionette Davis, is charged with human trafficking and child abuse involving prostitution. Mario McNeill is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping. The mother, who has a history of drug abuse, allegedly sold the little girl for a sexual encounter. Some 2,000 people attended the Nov. 22 funeral and the young victim's body was found in early November beside a rural road in North Carolina.

Federal prosecutors in New York said Nov. 25 that a young woman from Mexico was smuggled over the border and forced to work as a prostitute for years in Brooklyn. The remains of an infant were found in concrete at the home where she was held prisoner, federal prosecutors added.

The woman was beaten so frequently by her captors, sometimes with bricks and wooden boards, that scars and bruises covered her body, according to a federal affidavit.

Domingo Salazar and his wife, Norma Mendez, are accused of sex trafficking and were being held without bail at Final Call presstime.

When the woman was interviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, she had a broken nose, swollen eye scars from cuts and a disfigured finger from an old break. She doesn't speak English.

“The trafficking of human beings and sex slavery are unconscionable in this day and age and will not be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said. If convicted, the couple faces life imprisonment.

Every year nearly 300,000 children are at risk to sexual exploitation in the U.S. and an estimated 500,000 incidents are not reported. This has made the U.S. the number one destination for child sex trafficking in the world. “For years, research has focused on the problem of human trafficking on the international level. But now the problem is rising domestically and drawing more attention,” Mark Elam of Tulsa, Okla., told The Final Call.

Mr. Elam heads Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans (OATH), a coalition combating the rise of human trafficking in the state. The group is partnering with U.S. Attorney General's office, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I think people in America are still uneducated about exactly what human trafficking is so there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mr. Elam told The Final Call. OATH has been in existence for a little over a year.

Task force focuses on child prostitution

In 2003 the Justice Dept. reported the largest concentrations of trafficking survivors who received federal assistance lived in California, Texas, New York and Oklahoma. The FBI program “Stormy Nights” rescued 13 Oklahoma children ages 12 and up in 2004 from a prostitution ring operating at Oklahoma City truck stops.

In 2006, a manufacturing facility in Tulsa was shut down after an Oklahoma City federal court ruled against several men who lured people from India into forced labor. Earlier this year, an FBI task force rescued several girls during a Craigslist sex sting operation.

On Oct. 26, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children concluded Operation Cross Country IV, a national action plan that is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which targets child prostitution.

According to the FBI, a three-day operation in 36 cities across 30 FBI divisions led to the rescue of 52 child prostitutes. Nearly 700 others, including 60 pimps, were arrested on state and local charges.

“Child prostitution continues to be a significant problem in our country, as evidenced by the number of children rescued through the continued efforts of our crimes against children task forces,” said an FBI official, in a written statement.

Since its inception in 2003, the Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered about 900 children from the streets. Convictions have exceeded 500 people, resulted in lengthy sentences and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.

“Child trafficking for the purposes of prostitution is organized criminal activity using kids as commodities for sale or trade,” said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Mr. Elam warns a staggering number of runaway children is contributing to child sex trafficking coupled with America's dubious distinction as the number one producer of child pornography.

“Human trafficking of children is growing rapidly. Girls are being forced into prostitution as early as 12 years old. We're working on a state level to make people aware and help survivors,” says Mr. Elam.

OATH hosted its first national conference in October centered on raising awareness about child sex trafficking, particularly in Oklahoma. Workshops offering resource strategies featured experts from Washington, D.C., Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

“We had well over the number of expected attendees at the conference. Going into 2010, we're going to continue our efforts to combat this issue,” says Mr. Elam. “These kids are victims. They lack the ability to walk away. This is 21st century slavery,” adds Mr. Allen.

(AP contibuted to this report.)

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