Why Oklahoma Is A Prime Trade Route For Child Traffickers

Thursday, November 18th 2010, 9:09 pm
By: News On 6

Lori Fullbright, News On 6

UNDATED -- Human trafficking is a crime most people think happens overseas, in places like Bangkok or Amsterdam. But, America is now the number one destination in the world for child sex trafficking.

Selling people for money is multi-billion dollar industry and Oklahoma has become a crossroads of human trafficking.

Kids are being bought, sold and abused in our own backyard. Why here? It's supply and demand; as long as we have people wanting to have sex with children, there will be people willing to supply them.

Two women, both trafficked in Oklahoma, both when they were teens.

"We never got paid. They got paid and when we screamed and cried, the customers didn't care," said Kim, a trafficking victim.

"When he drove off, we became victims of a real pimp and prostitution situation," Jeannetta, another trafficking victim, said

Jeannetta Taylor grew up in Sand Springs, a typical childhood, a straight A student, with a loving mother.

"She didn't drink, didn't do drugs, took us to church every Sunday. We were well dressed, fed, taken care of. She kept me involved with sports and activities," she said.

Jeannetta says her life changed when a person she knew molested her when she was 11. That wasn't the sort of thing that was talked about in her family, so she began acting out, getting into trouble, being promiscuous and experimenting with drugs.

"The harder the drug, the less I had to think of feel," she said.

When she was 13, she ran away the first time and a friend's older boyfriend took them to a house at Main and Haskell in Tulsa, promising them protection, clothes and drugs. But they were forced into having sex with strangers for money and the violence was terrible.

"I've seen people beat to a pulp on Main and Haskell, when I was down there and at such a young age. I was more submissive because of that," Jeannetta said.

She was arrested for prostitution, even though she was too young to even consent to sex. She got pregnant, her son born addicted to cocaine and then adopted by her sister. She fled to Texas, ended up owing money to the Mexican mafia and when she tried to get out, was nearly killed.

"One night, three of them picked me up and stabbed me 36 times," she said.

She fled back to Tulsa, where she spent years on 11th street, in cheap motels, being forced to sell her body by violent drug dealers. She was arrested more than 70 times and eventually, lost all hope.

"I came to the point, I had no morals, no values, no self worth, no self dignity," she said.

Trafficking doesn't always mean kidnapping. It can mean coercion or psychological control, as traffickers groom these boys and girls, earn their trust, and then betray them.

Kim grew up in Oklahoma, was also molested by someone she knew as a child. When she was 18, she met an older man who promised her a Cinderella love story.

"I met a guy and didn't realize he was a recruiter. I thought we were in love," she said.

But instead, he took her to an abandoned home and handcuffed her to a door.

"During that time, I was raped. I was beaten," Kim said.

She was sold to men who took her to a warehouse in Nevada, where she lived with others, some as young as eight, all forced to do unspeakable things. Escape was impossible.

"The traffickers, when I ran away the first time, hit me in the back of the head with a crowbar," she said. "The second time, they grabbed my wrist and twisted my arm back and broke it. The third time, they held me in a tub of ice, naked."

Mark Elam has heard hundreds of these stories as the head of Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans and now, gives seminars to police officers, social workers and churches.

"It's happening here, kids are being recruited from here," he said.

He said Oklahoma is a prime trade route for traffickers with I-40, I-44 and I-35 but even worse, our children are prime targets.

"We're number one in female incarceration, number one in child abuse, number two in teen pregnancy, number three in divorce, number four in women murdered by their husbands or lovers, low in economic standards, low in job pay," Elam said. "That all fuels looking like poor, uneducated, broken families, vulnerable young people and a heavy area to recruit from."

Both Kim and Jeannetta finally escaped their hell and with help and treatment, became the women they were meant to be.

"I fell down on my knees and cried and said, God, I can't do this anymore," Kim said.

She escaped and recovered with the help of an Oklahoma church. She's now an advocate for other victims and is writing a book.

Jeannetta is drug free, working on her relationship with her son, has gotten a bachelor's degree at the University of Oklahoma and is working on her masters.

"I met a lady who taught me to have a personal relationship with my creator," she said.

She works with abused women and children.

The number one place traffickers recruit children now is the internet. They do get caught and thanks to new laws can get 10 year sentences, 20, if a minor is involved, but Oklahoma prosecutors aren't using these new laws and many cases get plea bargained.