Advocates, AG fight to end sex trafficking
May 10, 2018 06:51 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico is a prime spot for sex trafficking because it's close to the border. The major interstates also mean those who want to pay for sex can pass through easily without getting caught.
A growing number of trafficking victims are forced into the sex trade. Advocates and victims call it modern day slavery.
"What I always thought was like this was not going to last forever," said a sex trafficking survivor who did not want to be identified. "I always felt like there was going to be a way out."
This survivor agreed to give KOB an insider's look at a world many people turn away from. It's called "the life." She said she was taken in by her pimp when she was a senior in high school and under his reign for almost a year.
"The pimp he had to explain to me these tricks," she said. "He called them tricks. 'These tricks are going to call you a whore. They're going to call you a bitch, and you think that's why I don't prepare you girls for this?'"
Countless nights were spent in Albuquerque motel rooms with john after john. She said she was ordered to make over $1,000 a night or face brutal consequences.
"He broke a girls leg because she couldn't ... she wasn't getting up because she didn't want to go on a date," the survivor said.
She said her trafficker was Adonis Baker. He's accused of being of one Albuquerque's most prolific pimps, allegedly forcing women into sex for money for more than five years.
Advocates say the number of sex trafficking cases in New Mexico has more than doubled in the last five years. From 13 cases in 2012 to 24 in 2017. If these numbers seem low it's because experts say these cases are rarely reported.
It's painful stories from survivors that push advocates Shalane Rosales and Jana Pfeiffer to act. At least once a week, they drive the streets of Albuquerque looking for sex trafficking victims to help them get out of the life.
"Here in Albuquerque, it's not like your typical prostitute that's walking the streets with heels or little outfits," Rosales said. "It's a person who's dressed casually walking Central. It could be anyone out there."
They go to hotspots for illegal activity and look for women to talk to. They focus mainly along Central Avenue.
"We're with First Nation's Community HealthSource, the EAST Program," Rosales said. "We're just out here doing street outreach. We're with a new program there. We provide services to women who are forced into having sex on the street."
EAST stands for Education and Advocacy Against Sex Trafficking.
In April, the federal government seized many websites that housed this kind of activity online. Backpage.com was one of them, but New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said the federal intervention won't do much.
"I don't think that practice is going to go away," he said. "I think they're going to just go to another type of service provider."
Since starting a human trafficking task force, Balderas said they've prosecuted four sex trafficking cases. All have ended with convictions. They're one of the most time-consuming and difficult kinds of cases to investigate.
"I would still like to get every DA's office in the state prosecuting on the max capacity and unfortunately, we're one of the few law offices that really has the expertise to move forward," he said.
That's why Balderas said programs like EAST are so important. The program got a $650,000 federal grant to operate for three years. This month marks Year One.
"So far, successfully we helped three altogether," Rosales said.
One of them was the unnamed survivor. She said her trafficker was busted in last October. Now she's trying to stay clean and off the streets.
"I don't want to live my life like that," she said. "I want to work for my money, not doing that stuff – like I want to have a career."
"They are strong. They just need a support system," Pfeiffer added. "A network of women similar to themselves that can actually help them get out of the life and know there are alternatives."
Balderas said they're currently working with some hotels and motels in the metro that have volunteered to train workers to look for signs of sex trafficking. The attorney general also said they conduct sting operations as well.
Updated: May 10, 2018 06:51 AM
Created: May 08, 2018 08:00 PM
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