A combined task force arrested a 31-year-old Anchorage man Friday morning on several sex trafficking, sexual assault and weapons misconduct charges.

Xavier Lanell Cook Benson was charged Thursday on 12 counts for allegedly operating a “brutal and exploitative sex trafficking and prostitution enterprise” in Anchorage, which also functioned in Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks, according to a statement from the Alaska Department of Law.

Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander says it took months to build this case, using surveillance, digital forensics and key witness testimonies.

“Almost as important — if not more important — is the ability of our investigators to build relationships with people who are being trafficked, gain their trust and ultimately be able to stop the practice,” Alexander said.

Several of the charges relate to instances where Benson allegedly sexually and physically assaulted the women he trafficked. Those allegations were supported with evidence collected from several electronics owned by Benson, messages corroborating not only the assaults themselves, but the unwillingness of at least one of the women involved.

Police also presented evidence that Benson attempted to silence the women he trafficked by threatening them.

“Since the investigation into Benson’s activities began, he has made several threats both directly and through intermediaries to the women he has trafficked in an effort to avoid prosecution,” police wrote in court documents.

Threats and actual violence often keeps victims silent, according to Alaska Institute for Justice executive director Robin Bronen.

“We are still learning the dynamics of sex trafficking and what I mean by that is the power and control issues that occur between a trafficker and the people who are being trafficked,” Bronen said.

Alexander and Bronen both say the number of trafficking cases in the state is increasing, due in part to easy advertising on the internet but also because of Alaska’s high rate of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“When you’ve been harmed in that way, it increases your vulnerability to being solicited by people who would traffic you, put you in situations that you could never imagine,” Bronen said.

Trafficking is hidden in the community, according to Bronen. The only way to stop it is prevention, education and speaking up.

The FBI primarily handles human trafficking cases, along with the Anchorage Police Department.

Benson’s bail was set by warrant at $100,000 cash performance bond, a $100,000 cash corporate appearance bond and a court-approved third-party custodian, according to the DOL. Benson faces a minimum sentencing range of 40 to 60 years.

Authorities believe Benson may have more victims and ask anyone with information to contact Anchorage Police Department Detective Dawn Neer or FBI Special Agent Jolene Goden at 907-276-4441.

–Check back for updates on this developing story.