As the training at Arizona State University’s Diane Halle Center for Family Justice began, the participants received a stark message: “Phoenix has a huge trafficking problem.”
Relying on prosecutions to gauge the extent of trafficking activity in the Valley is an iffy proposition, said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix, which operates a human-trafficking task force with Phoenix police. Trafficking crimes might not get charged as trafficking violations if there are elements of other crimes that can keep suspects locked up for just as long, he said.
Prostitutes, regardless of their age, are the most frequent trafficking victims in Arizona, Allen said, with foreign-born forced-labor cases making up a small portion of cases federal investigators have handled. The public is sometimes dismissive of prostitution cases. But trafficking has remained on the agenda for community groups and it has been enough of an issue in recent years to see state legislation proposed that would create more severe penalties for those caught buying and selling sex from girls ages 15 to 18. Unfortunately for anti-trafficking advocates and politicians, public interest was not sufficient to move the legislation forward. The proposed legislation died without a hearing this year.
“The idea to have a business that is more profitable than others because they can sexualize children is abhorrent,” Allen said. “This is a stain upon us as a society that we allow this to continue at any level and we don’t do anything to stop it.”
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the city will continue its efforts to work with police and prosecutors who take a victims-first approach to prostitution and target those who buy and sell sex. “The reality is we can provide the services, we can help people with need, we can try to get them out of the cycle, but we need tough laws,” Stanton said. “Passing a law like this on an issue as important as ending child trafficking in our state is the right thing to do, and it sends a message about where our values are.”
Learn more at JJ Hensley’s AZ Central article: Phoenix-area scope of human trafficking is murky.