POSTED: Monday, March 21, 2011 - 6:58pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 10:50am
U.S. — Studies show more than 100,000 minors are trafficked for sex in the U.S. every year, some right here in East Texas.
It's a multi-billion dollar industry only topped by the illegal drug and arms trades.
One East Texan, Mandy Glasscock, says she makes candles and gives the profits to "For the Silent" organization. "For the Silent" is building a shelter in East Texas, which will be the first safe home for trafficked victims in the state. "When I started making them, I realized how many people didn't realize sex trafficking goes on here," Glasscock says.
Senator John Cornyn proposed a bill that would create six similar shelters nationwide. Cornyn's bill also gives law enforcement tools needed to investigate and prosecute the pimps and traffickers.
Becky Henderson with East Texas Crisis Center says, "These kids are actually victims, not criminals, which can be very hard to distinguish. It's not an easy job."
Unnamed officials in Smith County tell us they have child sex cases in and around Tyler, but it often looks like regular prostitution. They also say officers aren't recognizing or prosecuting the trafficking because they're not trained to deal with it. Henderson says, "They keep these kids on the move. They're not in any one location for very long, so it makes it difficult to find them."
Henderson tells us she has worked with trafficked minors. She says it can happen in several situations, like when a young boy or girl runs away from home, or is asked to do modeling from someone at the mall.
She says once they are isolated from everyone, drugs and manipulation are used to keep the minors in the trafficking system. Traffickers will often threaten the children with killing their families if they try to return home. Drugs are also used to keep the victims from leaving.
"There's a lot of brainwashing. Eventually what can happen is that one minor can be used to bring in other minors," says Henderson.
Sources also tell us minors are sold on websites several different times, and the average age of those victims are 12-14 years old.
Cornyn's bill would give $2-$2.5 million for victims shelters, clothing/daily needs for victims, counseling, training for law enforcement, police officer salaries, and several other things to stop what some call "Modern Day Slavery."
The bill passed in the Senate, but was held up in the House when anti-abortion lawmakers characterized the bill as abortion-related.
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