It will take more than law enforcement and money to combat human trafficking in Oklahoma, said Maj. Francina Proctor, associate area commander of the Central Oklahoma Salvation Army Area Command, who spoke to an Oklahoma City women's networking group on Wednesday.
The trafficking of humans in and through Oklahoma — for both sexual and labor purposes — can only be defeated with public awareness and a concerted effort by the community as a whole, Proctor told about two dozen women with OKC Happy Hour at Bricktown Brewery.
Proctor, guest speaker for the group's fall luncheon, used the podium to call for more support in combating a growing local problem.
“Sometimes it's not very comfortable for a city or area to say there is a problem, (but) there is more attention to it now, which is what we want,” she said. “It's not just in somebody else's backyard. It can be your neighbors, too.”
Proctor said there are an estimated 14 “pockets” of girls and women being used locally for sexual purposes, and identified several high profile cases in recent years, including that of Carina Saunders, a 19-year-old Mustang woman. Saunders was found in October 2011 dismembered in a duffel bag near a Bethany grocery store.
Authorities believe Saunders was tortured and killed to warn victims of sexual trafficking to cooperate.
Proctor said girls as young as 12 and 13 are groomed to be prostituted, and that the Internet and social networking makes it easier for predators to “charm” their victims.
Sexual trafficking, she said, is rarely a case of kidnapping. Its victims are vulnerable because they often come from poverty or from homes of abuse.
“Many people who take advantage of these kids are opportunists,” she said.
“Men charm these young girls who you know already have self esteem issues growing up by acting as their boyfriend, by providing riches. He breaks her down, he builds her up.”
She lauded Oklahoma lawmakers for approving legislation in 2008 that makes it easier for law enforcement to fight human trafficking.
A new law went into effect Nov. 1 that creates a human trafficking division within Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.
Mark Woodward, spokesman for the bureau, said the new division makes sense logistically.
Federal agents in Oklahoma have made more than 70 arrests from prostitution stings since June, including four underage girls. And of 150 prostitution-related arrests made by Oklahoma City police in 2011, 127 were trafficking based. But the bureau's new trafficking division will be the first of its kind at the state level.
“We've been running into investigations off and on for years where it has a human trafficking nexus, but we don't have statutory authority to investigate those,” Woodward said. “Drug traffickers are also trafficking humans, weapons — anything for money.”
Sometimes drug cartels will traffic local girls and women, but often they will bring immigrants from Mexico or elsewhere to Oklahoma to be prostituted, Proctor said.
It's a trade involving as much as 30 million women and children worldwide, and traffickers can fetch as much as $23,000 per human per year, she said.
“I want to see people get angry about it. I want to see people angry about child pornography,” she said.
Salvation Army aids fight
The Salvation Army has partnered with law enforcement and several other organizations — notably Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans — to bring attention to the problem.
A new series of public service announcements are set to roll out soon, but what's really needed are more advocates, she said.
There are only four centers nationwide equipped to take in and treat child trafficking victims, she said. Local law enforcement does not have the resources to care for these girls, she said, and many of them end up in jail or back out on the streets.