Sex Trafficking of Minors “Epidemic” in Alaska
Predators often target homeless youth who’ve already been abused
ANCHORAGE - Sex trafficking in Alaska is being called epidemic. Monday, the Alaska Task Force on Sex Trafficking held a public hearing on the issue.
According to social workers, pimps and sex traffickers prey on the vulnerable – homeless kids. Those kids are typically on the streets to avoid child abuse. But experts said that just leaves them open to different kinds of predators.
Authorities said prostitution is hardly new to Alaska, but the face of it is changing.
“I think we have just gotten better at recognizing it,” said Sergeant Kathleen Lacey. “It has always been around, we are just getting better at recognizing it. The victims are getting younger and younger.”
In the 18 years that Lacey has been with the Anchorage Police Department, she’s seen perspectives change.
“We just used to look at prostitution as a victimless crime. They are breaking the law. We arrest them and send them to jail.”
But police said they start young, at about 14 years old. They say the younger they are, the easier they are to target.
“Very few, if any, youth fall into the horrific life of trafficking if they are supported and cared for within a home,” said Covenant House of Alaska Executive Director Alison Kear. “The trafficking activity experienced by our youth can be traced to our state’s epidemic rates of child abuse.”
According to Covenant House, in any given month about five residents are engaged in sex trafficking.
“A homeless young person met a man that turned out to be a pimp through a mutual friend, who in truth was a recruiter,” said Kear. “The pimp picked her and the recruiter up and took them to an apartment where several other females were there. He bathed the young woman and raped her. She tried avoiding him by hanging with the other girls, but then he made her dress in lingerie and she was photographed. She was sold on the internet and was forced to have sex with three men.”
“Her pimp then dropped her off at the emergency room because she was in ‘severe pain.’" Doctors told her she had an STD.
“Youth become trapped in a trauma bond with their traffickers that mirrors and recreates the relationship with abusive adults that they have had when they were young.”
What makes homeless teens easy prey, social workers said, is their need for human connection.
“If we don't meet their needs someone else will,” said Kear.
Police said the problem with stopping sex trafficking is that these days is it’s not out on the streets – it’s all over the internet on sites like Craigslist. And stopping male sex trafficking is even harder because it is much more exclusive.
When it comes to underage prostitutes, police said it’s harder to sting because pimps are unlikely to send an underage worker to an unknown client.