The Virtual Street Corner

Carolyn Jones worked the streets for 30 years.  Now she is speaking out as a sex trafficking survivor to raise awareness about a new generation of victims. Jones now works as an advocate with Streetlight USA, a local group providing shelter and treatment to underage victims.

The new street corner has gone virtual. “You won’t see a lot of girls working out here on the street, that’s the way it used to be,” Jones said. “It is so easy to go online and order a young girl, just like you’re ordering pizza. That should not be!” Arizona State University Associate Professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz has done extensive research on Backpage.com. She found nearly 80 percent of ads posted on the “adult services” section of the site are believed to be for selling sex. “It’s so easy,” said Roe-Sepowitz. She analyzed hundreds of ads, looking for key words and cues that could indicate victims, including young girls.

“The huge trend is in social media,” said Sgt. Clay Sutherlin of Phoenix Police Department’s Vice Squad. He said pimps have even turned to sites such as Twitter and Facebook to recruit their victims. “You have people out there, the sex traffickers, who are probably sending out hundreds and hundreds of friend requests,” said Sutherlin, who admits a good portion of his team’s work is now online. He said predators are looking for vulnerable, at-risk children and teens, who can be groomed and manipulated into a lifestyle of prostitution and pain.

“We take human trafficking very seriously and while this behavior is not common on Facebook, we have implemented robust protections to identify and counter this activity,” said Facebook spokesman Fred Wolens. “We maintain a robust reporting infrastructure that leverages the over billion people who use our site to keep an eye out for offensive or potentially dangerous content.” Facebook has a contact form to report trafficking in its Help Center. According to Twitter’s policy, content promoting child sexual exploitation will be removed from the site without further notice and reported to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Twitter accounts believed to be promoting trafficking are to be reported to the Twitter Help Center Child Sexual Exploitation Policy.

Learn more at Natalie Brand’s AZFamily.com article: The virtual street corner: Sex trafficking online.

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