CARLSBAD — It’s been called the world’s oldest profession, but the girls working it seem to be younger and younger, and the choice to work it is not necessarily theirs.
As those who run the sex slave trade have discovered, selling minors for sex is more lucrative and safer than selling drugs, and it’s resulting in an increase in underage prostitution in this country.
Slaveholders, ranging from individuals to cartels, can make a profit of $300,000 per year for each girl. The crime often goes unpunished because the girls rarely testify against their “owners.”
Carlsbad resident Gabriela Cabezas has become involved by dedicating herself to helping the girls once they’ve been arrested.
About 11 years ago, her teenage daughter began making bad decisions, Cabezas said.
“I was worried so I decided to take her out of that environment,” Cabezas said. She enrolled her 16-year-old at Teen Rescue, a private nonprofit organization that works with troubled children at a secure campus in a remote area of Northern California.
After successfully completing the program she returned home 15 months later and began doing mission work in San Francisco, Vietnam and Thailand.
About eight years ago her daughter went back to get employment with the very program that helped her, Cabezas said.
With her daughter working at Teen Rescue, Cabezas stayed involved, serving on its board of directors. Nearly two years ago, the organization shifted some of its focus and created Faces of Slavery to help girls, some as young as 10, who are victims of domestic sex trade.
There are approximately 300,000 girls in this country between the ages of 10 and 17 trapped in sex slavery. Most are runaways, according to Faces of Slavery.
“The people selling these girls look for a weakness that usually comes from being violated by an uncle or a boyfriend,” Cabezas said. “When a girl is violated sexually she doesn’t think very highly of herself and she becomes vulnerable.
“In sex trafficking the girls are held against their will by slaveholders, pimps — whatever you want to call them — and manipulated psychologically, emotionally and physically,” Cabezas said. “Most of the time they’re drugged.
“They get them hooked on drugs and threaten to hurt their families if they tell anyone,” Cabezas said.
According to Faces of Slavery, slaveholders will send “testers” out who pretend to want to rescue the girl. If she engages with the tester she will be beaten.
When arrested the girls are usually treated as prostitutes and often end up in group homes, foster care or juvenile hall.
“Sometimes they are reunited with their families, but when they get home they can’t get past the violation,” Cabezas said. “They start cutting themselves, drinking, being promiscuous.”
Faces of Slavery provide the victims with a caring, family atmosphere that includes food, shelter, counseling, education, social and life skills, medical care and life planning.
About 11 girls are currently enrolled, but the facility has room for 100. Staff is building relationships with law enforcement and working with juvenile judges, probation officers and district attorneys to place more girls at Faces of Slavery.
But the biggest obstacle is funding. The two-year program costs about $3,000 per month per girl. The organization has partnered with New Day for Children but additional financial help is needed from churches, corporations and private donors, Cabezas said.
“Long-term, small amounts every month really help,” she said. “Several 100 $20 monthly donations will go a long way.”
Visit facesofslavery.org for information.