Some trafficking victims kept in jails due to housing shortage
POSTED: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 10:51pm
UPDATED: Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 9:41pm
"The Holding Room"
El Paso, TX (KTSM) —
A HOPE FOUND, AND LOST
A flaw in Texas law is causing young victims of sex trafficking to be put in jail, a practice advocates say re-victimizes the abused.
John Martin is the executive director of the recently formed Paso Del Norte Center of Hope, a newly formed organization that connects victims of human trafficking to the services they need.
He says there are resources to house children 13 years old and under, and other housing is available for women.
Yet when it comes to teens 13 to 17 years old, especially those who have gone through the trauma of sex trafficking, there are too few shelters that qualify by law to help, said Martin.
"When you have a child that is forced into prostitution, for example, they're the victim. But in many cases, law enforcement doesn't have an option," said Martin.
"They just simply just put them into a detention facility. So you're treating an individual as if they're the ones who perpetrated the crime," he said.
While there are no concrete numbers of how many teens are trafficked into El Paso each year, the areas of town you can find them are endless.
"You can find them in your communities and your residential areas. You can find them in the hotels. It's, it's anywhere," said Virginia McCrimmon, the Center of Hope's Victim Services Specialist.
They're hidden even in affluent areas of El Paso, in neighborhoods like the Upper Valley.
More than two years ago, federal authorities say five women escaped a world of abuse inside a home on Los Moros Dr.
Agents arrested 10 people, including alleged ringleader Alarcon Allen Wiggins, also known as "Tha Don", in a ring that stretched across the country.
He's accused of using record label 424 Records to lure girls with the promise of a music career in Baltimore.
Before they knew it, they would end up in El Paso, beaten and robbed of their cell phones so they couldn't call for help, said prosecutors.
Then the group would force the girls into dancing at local strip clubs and prostitution, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation news release from 2011.
The case against Alarcon Wiggins is set to go to trial come August.
At least one of the victims, we're told, was underage.
When these children are saved, then put in a detention facility, it's an action that can take a toll on an already hurting child, said Martin.
It not only hurts them, but hurts law enforcement's hope of building a case against their predators.
" You still have to build up that level of trust... so that he or she feels very comfortable in working with us," said Martin.
This practice could soon be ending.
"Hopefully within the next 6 months or so, we'll be able to provide those services," said Martin.
That is with the help of State Rep. Naomi Gonzalez.
"We wanted to make sure that this bill was tailored to making sure that these victims of trafficking have a very safe environment," she said.
Gonzalez just helped passed measures in the state legislature that would allow more shelters to provide care for these children.
"A battered woman's shelter could qualify, the shelter that we have," said Gonzalez.
"A homeless shelter could qualify as well, someone that's already been licensed by the state to help children can qualify as a shelter for these children," she said.
"It's looking very positive that this is going to bring some justice for these children that are in a very dangerous situation," she said.
A dangerous situation, Virginia McCrimmon reminds us, is only outside your doorstep.
"There's always somebody out there, (who) sees the vulnerability in these children and of course, befriends them and entices them and lures them in to the trade," said McCrimmon.
"Any child that is out there is vulnerable."