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February 22, 1999

Activist to discuss sex trafficking of children

By Jennifer McNulty

Since the founding of Captive Daughters less than two years ago, activists have been getting out the word about the global sex trafficking of children and are working to end the recruitment and transport of children across international borders for sex.

On Wednesday, March 3, Jenny Stanger of Captive Daughters will talk about the causes of sex trafficking, the mega-businesses that are behind it, and the organizations working to stop it. Stanger's talk, which will include video clips from Burma, India, Israel, and the U.S., will begin at 7 p.m. in Kresge Town Hall. The event is in honor of International Women's Day and is being sponsored by the UCSC Women's Center.

Sex trafficking is commonly associated with Asia, but the sex trade is a growing, profitable business in North America, where a "pipeline" moves victims from Vancouver to the western United States and then Honolulu, said Stanger.

"Trafficking of women and children between the United States and Canada continues to be a phenomenon, while the U.S. is also becoming a major destination--mostly for women and girls--from around the world," said Stanger. "People in this country are shocked to find out that there are underground brothels with women in forced prostitution in every major city in the U.S."

Organized crime has become a major force behind sex trafficking, said Stanger.

"You can only sell a gun or a pound of pot once, but you can keep a person enslaved for years and years," she said. "It is more profitable to smuggle people than anything else."

Victims can end up in the sex trade as the result of kidnapping or being sold by their parents to traffickers, but most often they are lured by offers of legitimate employment, whether in a carpet factory in India or as a model in the U.S. Often, victims are moved across borders, where their escape is made more difficult by language barriers and the loss of passports.

The demands of the thriving sex industry in both the East and West contribute to the proliferation of sex trafficking, which is aided by new technologies such as cellular phones, pagers, and the World Wide Web. Western men pay for "sex tours" in countries where they can be provided with children. The spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases has not discouraged the sex industry's growth; rather, it has fed the demand for even younger girls and boys, who are mistakenly believed to be more likely to be disease-free.

Captive Daughters is a Los Angeles-based organization founded in 1997 by human-rights activist Sandra Hunnicut. The organization is dedicated to ending sex trafficking of children through human rights advocacy and public education. In addition to its educational outreach efforts, Captive Daughters is asking companies and organizations that do business with offending countries to raise the issue of sex trafficking in their transactions. Members are also working with governments to curb the practice and to facilitate the extradition and punishment of offenders.

"Part of the problem is that often the victims who end up as prostitutes are considered society's throwaways--they're the runaways and street kids that people don't care about, so there's a lot of education that has to take place to help this population," said Stanger. "Many adult prostitutes began as children and face a complex path to reintegration into mainstream society."

Recruiters in the United States are targeting their activities in malls, movie theaters, and video arcades looking for "that really pretty 13- or 14-year-old girl with low self-esteem who can be persuaded to come along," said Stanger. "A recruiter will pose as a girl's boyfriend for a while and make all kinds of promises until he gains her trust and dependence. It can become a very difficult cycle to escape."

Although the Western media has often gone to the Third World to cover the story of sex trafficking in Asia, reporters have overlooked the magnitude of the problem in the United States, said Stanger, whose talk will cover both areas.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call the UCSC Women's Center at (831) 459-2291.

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