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.