Child trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. It is a modern-day form of slavery, usually associated with countries that have unstable economic and political systems. It's also a serious problem, however, in Europe, Russia and the United States - an underground business driven by enormous profits.
Many victims get help from the FAIR Fund, a Washington-based international non-profit organization that works to prevent sex and labor trafficking of young people, especially girls, around the world. In the first of two reports, one former victim, who managed to make her escape, talked about her ordeal.
Organized Criminal Networks Exploit Children
In many countries around the world, tens of thousands of girls and boys are trafficked and exploited for sex and forced labor - usually by organized criminal networks. Men who recruit girls often pretend to be a boyfriend or a family member, or someone who is offering a job.
Asia, now 20 years old, is perhaps a typical victim. At the age of 18, with no job and no money, she thought she had met the man of her dreams. Instead, she was lured by a 21-year old pimp and coerced into the sex trade.
"He said it was a business deal, and from all the money I make I would give him 10 percent and he would just be there for my protection," said Asia. "He told me my job would be to have sex with men and to bring him the money. The first thing I ever did was watch another girl having sex with somebody to get an idea of what I was supposed to do."
The pimp advertised her services on the popular website "Craigslist" and calls started coming in.
"I would have to wait for them to come, wait to see their car in a parking lot, tell them the room number and still be nervous," said Asia. "Then I would have sex with them no matter of their age, race, job, whether they were married or not, had kids, whether they had disease or not, how did I know."
FAIR Fund Works to Prevent, Help Victims
Asia was working 15-hour days, often having sex 10 times a day, and bringing all the money to her pimp. "Over a thousand dollars a day," said Asia. "He would get it and just take it to the bank, or go and hang out at what they call pimp parties."
Asia had a troubled childhood. Her mentally ill mother left her in a hospital when she was born. Raised by her grandmother, she had a baby at the age of 17 whom she gave up for adoption. As a victim of sex trafficking, she ended up in the Washington, D.C., area - was caught in an undercover police operation - and went to jail. But after that, her life took a turn for better, thanks to the FAIR Fund.
"They have aided in so many things, like employment, learning how to be independent, housing, emotional wise," said Asia. "I got a job within a month of leaving that life and most people do not do that. But I still have a criminal record."
FAIR Fund Executive Director and Co-Founder Andrea Powell said, "We have helped over 350 young people escape the situations of labor and sex trafficking in the past eight years."
Powell started FAIR Fund eight years ago to stop trafficking of youth worldwide. It assisted more than 2,500 teen girls and boys last year in the United States, Bosnia, Serbia, Russia and Uganda.
"There are an estimated 200,000 young people trafficked within southeastern and eastern Europe generally every year," said Powell. "In the United States, there are estimates that around 20,000 people are being brought into the country every year. It is usually teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 17, who have lack of family support, or who were maybe abused as a child. If a trafficker does his business right, he can make $60,000 or $70,000 a year off of one girl's body."
Enlisting Community Involvement
FAIR Fund provides training to teachers, social workers, police, lawyers and others on how to best identify and assist high risk and sexually-exploited or trafficked teens. It also provides some job training for survivors. In the meantime, Asia has moved on with her life and is now a FAIR Fund advocate. Her emotional scars, however, are still fresh.
"I have panic attacks when I see someone who looks like the person who held me hostage," said Asia. "From things that happened to me, I ask myself who do I trust, who do I tell my name and give my phone number to. If you do decide to get out, you will be very happy you did it, because the grass is greener on the other side. I never have to deal with that again. Ever."