In legal circles it is known as domestic minor sex trafficking, but law enforcement officials and victims advocates call it contemporary slavery.
"Slavery today is as pervasive as it has ever been in the history of humankind," said Police Chief Nicholas Sensley of Truckee, Calif., who has specialized in combating human trafficking. The victims, often children, "are being exploited at a level beyond what we have seen in history."
More than 2 million children worldwide and 100,000 in the United States are estimated to be involved in the commercial sex trade.
Sensley was the law enforcement officials and victims advocates who talked about local efforts to combat the crime during a congressional field briefing led by two Republicans: Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and Rep. Dan Lungren of California.
In 2006, the city of Sacramento ranked second in the nation as a center for child prostitution, according to the FBI. Since then, law enforcement agencies and community activists in the region have developed what congressional leaders Tuesday lauded as a possible model for a nationwide assault on child sex traffickers.
The briefing at Rancho Cordova City Hall was held as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted by Congress in 2000, comes up for reauthorization.
The briefing brought together representatives of the FBI, U.S. attorney's office and the Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center. Other participants included a trafficking victim's mother, Vicki Zito of El Dorado Hills, Calif.; victims advocate Jenny Williamson of Sacramento; and actress Mira Sorvino, United Nations goodwill ambassador on human trafficking issues.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said his office has made prosecution of sex traffickers a priority. Since 2006, he said, charges have been filed in 17 cases with 28 defendants in the region. Ten have been convicted, with sentences of up to 40 years in prison.
About 200 juvenile victims of prostitution have been rescued through the Innocence Lost Task Force, made up of regional law enforcement agencies.
Officials said it's essential to train law enforcement officers to recognize juvenile sex trafficking victims and to treat them as victims rather than criminals. They also said it's key to apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators.
Victims need the community's help to restore their emotional health, Wagner said, noting that they typically need a safe place to live, medical treatment, education and job training.
"The government is not responsible for taking care of these kids, we are," Williamson told approximately 200 people attending Tuesday's briefing.
A Natomas businesswoman and mother, Williamson founded a nonprofit organization that seeks to build Courage Houses, homes for children rescued from sex trafficking.
She said the organization has raised $1 million in donations and seeks to operate state-licensed group homes. Williamson has worked with a foster care organization to develop a training program to help foster parents deal with sex trafficking victims' special needs.
Williamson urged people to consider becoming foster parents, to volunteer to work with youths in juvenile hall, and to use their influence to increase awareness of sex trafficking and efforts to combat it.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)