In Sacramento County, we are very fortunate to have a team that investigates and prosecute human trafficking cases and a collaborative system that provides assistance to survivors. The recent conviction of Justin Starks for trafficking a 15-year-old with the aggravating factor that the victim was particularly vulnerable shows why this work is necessary. It also shows us what trafficking looks like in our community. The Sacramento Bee reported the following about the case:
“He took the victim to an area known for prostitution to sell sex over the course of several weeks. She collected and turned money over to Starks, according to the release.”
It’s a true statement. It is also true that over the course of several weeks, she was bought by people who likely knew she was a teen and may have even noticed that she was particularly vulnerable. Many of us can see when someone is in a vulnerable position. This happened to her not by one person – but by people over several weeks.
It is hard to accept that this regularly happens in our community, and it is easy to be relieved when we see justice for a victim. But it is really important to understand that buying children and trafficked people makes this different from other forms of violence. People are forced through violence and coercion to sell sex to buyers. These buyers are not often held responsible for their choice to buy children or harm people. We must take the stand that it is never OK to buy a child or a teen for sex, it is not a defense to claim you could not tell the age of a person you have bought for sex, and it is always harmful.
In Fresno, there was a recent undercover operation that resulted in the arrest of 19 individuals for allegedly attempting to contact a minor for sex and other related crimes. From the press release:
“During Operation Hands Off Our Kids, law enforcement personnel worked undercover, posing as children as young as 13 years old, to identify, contact, and arrest anyone who may be trying to target children for sex.”
Thankfully, no actual children were involved in these operations. But, again – we find that people are willing to buy children for sex.
We have to take a stand.