ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Experts testifying before a new Alaska task force on sex trafficking said Monday the teenage victims often are too afraid and embarrassed, and sometimes too addicted to drugs, to come forward.
The comments were made at a hearing to address sex trafficking, which authorities say is notoriously underreported. Among the most vulnerable are chronic runaways whose own parents have quit looking for them, said Detective Sgt. Kathy Lacey, who heads the Anchorage Police Department's vice unit.
"Those kids are falling through the cracks," she told the panel.
Jolene Goeden, an FBI special agent in Anchorage who investigates sex crimes, said there have been seven federal prosecutions of human trafficking cases, noting that not all of them were filed as trafficking cases. In the seven cases, 105 trafficking victims were identified.
Recorded conversations with a victim identified as "Heather" also were played. She said her pimp initially was treated her well and told her she would not want for anything, then the relationship deteriorated to the point where she was beaten for being even a dollar short, hogtied and gagged and thrown into an "underground tunnel" for days.
"It was brutal," she said.
The state task force aims to gauge the prevalence of human trafficking and prostitution in Alaska, as well as the services available to help victims. It also plans a December public hearing in Bethel.
State lawmakers earlier this year unanimously approved a bill that established the task force and created harsher penalties for human trafficking crimes.
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