By John Martinez, Vice Mayor
Sedona AZ (December 27, 2018) – Before I begin my City Talk article about something that I am deeply passionate about, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and wishing a fruitful New Year to all. This month’s article will be on a subject I wrote about last year with updated information, and that subject is sex and human trafficking.
On Apr. 13 of this year, the Red Rock News broke the story about the indictment and charges filed against Michael Lacey, co-owner of Backpage. He and other individuals involved with Backpage were charged with one count of conspiracy and 50 counts of facilitating prostitution. Additional charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering are also being considered. What makes this occurrence so alarming is that it happened in our own backyard. The address of the arrest was in the 10600 block on State Route 89A, in Oak Creek Canyon. This breaks the myth that because we live in Sedona it must be happening “somewhere else, ” happening to “somebody else,” “it is a victimless crime,” it is in the “bad part of town,” or it is a “women’s issue.”
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain, and sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport or obtain a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act.
According to the United Nations, the growth rate of human and sex trafficking outpaces all other forms of illegal enterprise. It is a $150 billion business; that’s right, I wrote billion, and more 66 percent is in sex trafficking. There are over 27 million slaves in the world today, more than any other time in history.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 80 percent of children involved in sex trafficking in the United States are citizens. One out of three teens on the street will be lured into the “life” of sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. According to Shared Hope International and the organization TRUST, Training and Resources United to Stop Trafficking, these kids are often rented for sex acts with 10 different men per night, seven nights a week, for an average of 5 to 7 years, when unfortunately many perish after such abuse. In addition, the sex traffickers make on average $175,000 per child per year. Arizona has documented children being forced into this trade with an average age if 14 and some as young as eight. Know that this could be your daughter, your son or any loved one.
It is the vulnerable (homeless, runaway, bullied, abused, foster children) who are most at risk. Even those teens who are confident and self-assured are also at risk. The warning signs that your child, niece or nephew is possibly under the spell of a sex trafficker are as follows: older boyfriend, tattoos or branding, expensive items (jewelry, clothes), vocabulary, isolation, or signs of abuse. Parents know the warning signs, know the social networks and apps your children are using, monitor your child’s online friends, discourage posting selfies, and turn off geo-locations features.
Much progress has been made to combat sex and human trafficking, primarily in the area of awareness and education. Many independent films addressing this subject have been shown at the Sedona International Film Festival. The organization that I am involved with has made 46 presentations to various organizations since Sept. 16, 2016. Our organization’s president has written a manual for protocol and training being used by local law enforcement. Truckers and Biker groups have joined the effort to combat this evil operation. In April 2018 federal legislation (FOSTA/SETA) removed immunity for websites hosting illegal content.
So now I’m sure you are asking how can I help or become involved? Please observe and listen, know the warning signs, educate your children, nieces and nephews about predators that want to take advantage of the situation, support and attend seminars that are conducted by our organization, the Coalition Against Human Trafficking – Northern AZ, and report cases to the Sedona Police department at (928) 282-3100, or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. Remember: if you see something, say something. The website for the local chapter of Coalition Against Human Trafficking – Northern AZ is CAHT-NAZ.org.
The views that I am expressing are my personal opinions and not necessarily the opinions or positions of the city of Sedona or Sedona City Council.