Sex Trafficking Thriving in Phoenix

Prostitution. Sex trafficking. Such practices have been hailed — but mostly vilified — for centuries. Prostitution is perhaps not coincidentally called the oldest profession. But the toll that such activities take upon the young girls that get involved in them — experts say the average age of entry is 14 — does not make for fairy tale endings.

Most residents of the Phoenix metro assume things like human trafficking and prostitution exist somewhere in the region, but few people likely realize how prevalent these activities are and the complexity of the battle that law enforcement and community groups are waging against them.

Influences on sex trafficking include weather, resort- and entertainment-based economic factors such as large national and regional sporting events, urban geography, geographic proximities to pornography hubs and “legalized” prostitution jurisdictions. Among densely developed metropolitan areas like Phoenix or any other major city, infrastructure such as freeway systems, hubs of aviation and other mass transit, and large events facilitate the movement of people, connecting a city with surrounding areas and other major markets and population clusters. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton formed a task force in December to combat sex trafficking. The stated goals of the Greater Phoenix Metro Sex Trafficking Task Force to combat sex trafficking are:

  • Enhance regional law enforcement’s ability to identify and rescue victims.
  • Work to prevent child sex trafficking, through training at hotels, airlines, airports and other venues. Specifically, training workers how to recognize the signs of trafficking, where to report suspected trafficking, and how to connect victims with services.
  • Provide support to state-level legislative efforts to end child trafficking.
  • Assure that trafficking victims in crisis can find help.
  • Consider the examples of “best practices” for child safety identified by other communities who have hosted the Super Bowl and events like it.

Children are the most sought after sex-trafficking victim demographic, and the average age of entry into the sex trade in Arizona is 14, said Kathleen Winn, Outreach Director for the Arizona Attorney Generals Office, and the office’s liaison for the task force. Most sex trafficking victims do not live past the age of 34, she said. Another particularly at-risk and sizable demographic that is often groomed by sex traffickers are the children involved with the state’s foster care system, Winn said. Non-traditional family structure also correlates with risk for prostitution grooming in Arizona, she said, and there are more than 68,000 grandparents raising grandchildren in Arizona (although it is a nationwide phenomena, Winn said). “It is not a standalone issue,” Winn said.

“Sex trafficking does not get there all by itself. It is tied to economics. When we uncover a criminal enterprise or we get the pimp and he has assets, the attorney general’s office forfeiture division in our office is one of the best in the in the country for seizing assets. We can financially cripple those who are exploiting these girls as a criminal enterprise.” House Bill 2454, which recently cleared the 51st Arizona Legislative Session and is now law, reinforces criminal penalties for sex trafficking offenses and clarifies various related statutory definitions, and adds requirements and restrictions for escort services and massage parlors.

Learn more at Chris Braswell’s Modern Times Magazine article: Sex Trafficking Thrives in the Phoenix Metro

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