The Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines the crime of human trafficking as:
Sometimes referred to as domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) occurs when U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident minors (under the age of 18) are commercially sexually exploited.
Children can be commercially sexually exploited through prostitution, pornography, stripping, erotic entertainment or other sexual acts.
The commercial aspect of the sexual exploitation is critical to separating the crime of trafficking from sexual assault, molestation or rape. The term "commercial sex act" is the giving or receiving of anything of value (money, drugs, shelter, food, clothes, etc.) to any person in exchange for a sex act.
In this case, there appears to be a growing demand fueled by easy access through the internet, and a ready supply of underage girls that are constantly being recruited and exploited.
Sadly, some girls are sold by family members, some end up selling sex as a means to support drug use, while others are initiated into "the life" through an older boyfriend who forces them to perform sex acts for personal profit. These girls are often times born and raised in Arizona –but wherever they are from, difficult early life including poverty, child maltreatment, domestic violence or substance use in the home places them at risk for trafficking.
Some of these are very young girls, who may be more vulnerable to the coercion and manipulation of traffickers. While these girls may appear to look 18 or give a false age when asked, the average age of entry into sex trafficking as a minor in Arizona is approximately 14 years old.
Successful prosecution of traffickers is a long and complicated process for law enforcement. It is very difficult to get victims to testify against their traffickers. Girls are often scared and fear retaliation.
While the list of internet sources where sex can be advertised and purchased is ever-changing, according to an Arizona State University research project in May 2012, nearly 80 percent of the ads posted as 'adult services' on Backpage.com are for the sale of sex.
More than 300 ads are placed each day in Phoenix on Backpage.com for adult services – with an estimated 20% for girls under 18.
A lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court in Washington claimed Backpage.com markets itself as a place to sell "escort services" but actually provides pimps with instructions on how to write an ad that works.
Backpage filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing it isn't responsible for the actions of subscribers or users and the federal law makes them immune from liability. A lower court denied that request and Backpage appealed.
Backpage maintains its ads are protected under the First Amendment protecting the freedom of speech.
The mere discussion of sex trafficking in Arizona sparks outrage, yet there is much work that needs to be done to really impact the illicit industry.
Arizona should be a state where trafficking is neither ignored nor tolerated, but rather a place where criminals are punished and buyers think twice before purchasing sex with a minor.
In order to make progress, Arizona needs tougher laws to punish traffickers and those who knowingly purchase sex with a minor. Many refer to Arizona’s drunk driving laws as an example and its success in the overall reduction of the incidence of people drinking and driving.
Selling sex with a child is a heinous crime and should carry the strictest sentence possible under Arizona State law. The laws of a community reflect the values of a community.
A successful awareness campaign could result in a meaningful decrease in the demand side of the equation. It could go a long way to disrupting the business of child sex trafficking.
On the bright side, Arizona has a large network of organizations and groups who are fighting sex trafficking – through innovative law enforcement efforts, churches, service providers, research institutions, and lobbyists.
Over the last few years, community awareness regarding trafficking has increased substantially, highlighting a need for a more coordinated and integrated response. There are many distinct groups in Arizona working independently on the issue, primarily focused on victim identification and support services.
Through the coordination of efforts, new and sustainable resources can be developed and laws can be adopted to facilitate arrests, prosecute the buyers and traffickers, and prioritize the identification and protection of Arizona’s children involved in domestic minor sex trafficking.
It takes more than one person, one organization, one movement to end the unconscionable practice of sex trafficking our children.
It’s time that all Arizonans stand against trafficking. Small business, big business - Sex Trafficking is everyone’s business. When the prostitution of children thrives, our entire community suffers.