A legislative panel sat in silence Thursday as an Oklahoma woman told her story of being forced into prostitution when she was 11 and of her 30-year struggle to recover.
Law officers told members looking at human trafficking that cases of sex trafficking are exploding across the state. Last October's discovery of Carina Saunders' dismembered remains behind a Bethany grocery store shocked many in the state when investigators said the 19-year-old Mustang High School graduate might have been tortured and killed by members of a human trafficking ring.
“It's troubling, and it shocks my conscience and I do not become shocked very easily,” said Darrell Weaver, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control Director. “We have to protect these children.”
Oklahoma City Police Lt. Doug Kimberlin, with the department's vice enforcement unit, said law officers need legislation to help them investigate human traffickers. Law officers want to use wiretaps when investigating human trafficking cases, which would decrease the amount of time that victims would have to be in court to testify against their captors. He also asked that a law be passed requiring convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders.
“It's viewed as a big-city problem because we recover the victims here,” he said. “It really is not. It is a statewide problem. In bordellos not 20 miles from here, there are victims that are prostituting themselves … and nothing can be done about it.”
Kimberlin said law officers in Oklahoma are unable to prosecute traffickers effectively and frequently have to use lesser crimes to arrest one.
Legislation was passed and signed into law this year that set up a human trafficking division in the drug agency. The law takes effect Nov. 1. Seven agents are in place to investigate human trafficking sex and labor crimes.
Weaver said after the meeting he would seek additional funding next year so that human trafficking agents also could be placed in each of the agency's five district offices.
“One day I think we'll be surprised where it (human trafficking) is at all over our state,” he said.
Jeannetta McCrery told members of the House of Representatives Public Safety Committee she was a good student growing up in Sand Springs until she was sexually molested when she was 10 by a family member.
She was told not to tell anyone, and her attitude and grades suffered.
She said she started hanging out with older friends and, when she was 11, she went with some of them to a party at an apartment in Tulsa. She said she was drugged and awoke naked on a dirty mattress inside a room she didn't recognize. The windows were boarded up and the door was locked from the outside.
For at least three weeks, she said, men went to the room every day and she had no idea how many times she was raped. A short time later, she was taken across the country, along with other girls, and spent most of the next several years in sexual slavery.
She said she tried to escape. While in Fort Worth, Texas, she was able to leave a motel room and started running away; a car chased her down and her captors jumped out and stabbed her 36 times with ice picks, she said.
She eventually found help from a woman in east Texas who treated her as a person and helped her in her recovery.
“I can't tell you how hard … it is to tell someone who believes that you did not choose to be a prostitute,” she said.
McCrery, 41, has been attending college the past several years and is months away from earning her master's degree in clinical social work.
OBN Agent Craig Williams said sex trafficking cases range from small scale incidents to organizational operations.
Some brothels in Oklahoma City and Tulsa involve girls, mostly illegal immigrants, who were recruited in the Houston area.
Some brothels cater specifically to illegal immigrants, he said. In one case, a person's dialect was used to determine admission; women and girls were subjected to 15 to 20 sexual contacts a day.
In most cases, the women and girls are not allowed to leave and have limited ability to communicate with others, he said.
Most believe that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years of age, Williams said.
Pimps and traffickers use a variety of methods to recruit girls, often using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, he said. They identify vulnerabilities and befriend the girls.
Girls and women are forced to perform sexual services at apartments and truck stops, but human trafficking also takes place at some massage parlors, Williams said.
“We have recently been involved in a case where a woman was recruited from Kentucky to work in a massage parlor in Del City,” he said. “The parlor pressured her to provide sexual services to clients.”
Williams said human trafficking victims have been recruited from all parts of the state.
“Victims from all over Oklahoma and other states have been recovered in Oklahoma City,” he said. “Victims from Oklahoma have been recovered in numerous other states.”
Kimberlin said Oklahoma City police in 2011 made 150 prostitution-related contacts; 127 were trafficking based. So far this year, police have made 148-prostitution-related contacts, with 108 trafficking based. The rest are either customer-based or known repeat offenders.
Rep. Pam Peterson, who requested the interim study, said she plans to file legislation to help law officers crack down on human trafficking.
“I would like to work with law enforcement … and make sure that if we do introduce something it's something that doesn't have any unintended consequences,” said Peterson, R-Tulsa.
“These are some of the toughest cases,” she said, saying investigations usually take at least 18 months before an arrest can be made.
“There are people out there that are really pretty awful in abusing other human beings,” Peterson said. “For too long, most people thought this is a Third World problem. The United States is the No. 1 destination for sex trafficking in the world. And Oklahoma's right in the middle of the country, the crossroads of all the major interstates.”
Oklahomans shouldn't “put our heads in the sand and say it doesn't exist,” she said.