ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – In July the FBI and other agencies brought down 150 pimps in this country’s largest sex trafficking sting.

105 children rescued in more than 70 cities — including St. Louis.

Who are these victims? And how did they end up captives of the sex trade?

You may imagine truckloads of girls coming from across the border, but police tell KMOX most of the victims they come in contact with are local. Some from average families.  Others from dysfunction.

Young people lured with the promise of a better life, then kept captive with threats, violence, drugs.

“I would say at least 40 – 50 percent come from being placed in some kind of foster care.  Running away, sometimes being thrown out of the place they’re living, sometimes that happens repeatedly.  Sometimes parents are either incarcerated or not in the picture at all,” Cindy Mallott says, sitting on a couch in a small, dimly-lit counseling room.

Mallott is the Crisis Intervention Supervisor for the YWCA Regional Sexual Assault Center.

“I think a lot of traffickers focus on young adolescents who are very vulnerable,” says Mallott.

Pimps are known to hang out at bus stations, train stations, airports. They’ll offer kids a place to stay, a warm meal, understanding and acceptance.

“For a young vulnerable adolescent who feels like they’re on their own or have no place to go, that can be just what they’re looking for,” she adds.

It’s short-lived. Soon control and isolation begins.

“She only is allowed to make phone calls when someone else is present or she is not allowed to make phone calls at all,” continues Mallott. The victim’s often a target of threats. “They’ve seen the person be violent with other people they have no reason not to believe wholeheartedly yes, he knows where my family is, he knows where my grandmother lives. He’ll go back and hurt them. I have to keep my mouth shut.”

So Mallott says, they don’t see any point trying to escape.  “They may be told, fine you go to police tell them what’s going on, you’re going to be arrested for prostitution. Look there’s all these ads for you online where you’re obviously prostituting yourself, so go ahead report me, you’re going to go down with me.”

It’s likely their pimp is also pumping them full of drugs.

“[It] enhances that dependency because that addiction is there and is used as a weapon, and as a reward for their participation.”  says Cleo Terry, who you heard from in a previous report. As Coordinator of the Rescue and Restore Coalition of Southwestern Illinois, Terry has learned getting victims hooked on drugs is insurance they won’t go to police.  “They would be so intimidated by losing their supply of drugs that they would be hesitant to say they’d been forced into prostitution.”

All of it takes a toll.

The average life expectancy of someone in the sex trade is seven years.

Some become so addicted to drugs they’re no longer sellable. So they’re thrown into the streets. They may end up as an overdose statistic.

Others are taken out by violence.

“I have to earn a thousand dollars tonight. How many men do I have to see tonight in order to do that?  And what do I have to do in order to get these men, do I have to get in a car, hotel room? I mean, its high risk,” says Pat Bradley with International Crisis Aid. There is also the psychological trauma. “If she sees five men that night, she’s been raped five times in one night. And how many times does that go on? Five six nights a week. You’re talking about thousands of times that girl’s been raped if she ever gets a chance to be rescued.”

In our next report, one victim tells her story of what it’s like to be sold for sex.

Listen Wednesday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:21 p.m.

Copyright KMOX Radio


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