Experts say 100,000 children in the U.S. are sold for sex every day.
According to Congressional estimates, every day in our country 100,000 children are being sold for sex. Enterprising pimps prey on young girls, and turn them into sex slaves.
But it was at a neighborhood Safeway store in northern California where the sex slave problem became a terrible reality for one family. In 2008 Vicki Zito’s daughter was abducted there, then forced into unthinkable acts.
Vicki’s daughter was a 17-year old high school senior at the time, but developmentally disabled. She had asked her mom if she could go down to the store with a friend.
“And so we said yeah, okay, go grab a soda,” Vicki recalls. “How innocent is that? And it’s the one decision that I’ll regret for the rest of my life,” Vicki says, tears welling up in her eyes.
Vicki’s daughter was abducted by a man who sold her for sex by posting ads for ‘erotic services’ on the web site Craigslist. She was enslaved for seven days in motels around the Bay Area.
At home, Vicki prayed. “Once the sun went down it was unbearable,” Vicki says, sobbing quietly. “I’m sorry, but it was. It was horrible. I would just stand at the window, watching, waiting, wanting so badly for her to come home.”
After a week, Vicki got a late-night call from authorities. “They told me they’d found my daughter. And that she was alive. And in that brief moment of , ‘Oh my god my daughter’s alive, she’s okay,’ it was followed with ‘But I’m sorry to tell you… Are you sitting down?'”
Authorities told Vicki that her daughter had been sold for sex, over and over again.
“It was more than I could bear,” Vicki says. “That’s when I learned about sex trafficking, what it was, and what it meant that my daughter had been enduring for the past seven days.”
Ultimately her abductor, 25 year-old Rishi Sanwal, was arrested and convicted. He’s serving a 12 year sentence for sex trafficking.
About Sanwal, Zito says, “I don’t waste a lot of time on him. Do I believe in hell? Yes I believe in hell. Do I hope some day he burns in it? That’s harsh but yes. Because he can do his time in prison, but he’ll never be able to undo what he did to my daughter.”
Vicki also has a few choice words for Craigslist, the web site that posted Sanwal’s ads for ‘erotic services.’
“Pull the plug. Now. Pull the plug,” Zito says. “Do you have to have the erotic section of your web site to be profitable? Or in order to stay in business? Because if that’s what it takes for you to stay in business? You shouldn’t be in business.”
Zito thinks some major changes need to be made regarding online postings. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you have a spot on your web site where somebody can go, and at the click of a button, buy another human being for sex.”
The Zito family’s story has come to the attention of California Against Slavery, a non-profit group actively lobbying to strengthen anti-sex slave laws in California. Its executive director Daphne Fung says the Zitos’ family tragedy serves as a cautionary tale.
“The Zitos’ story shows that no child is safe from human trafficking, that it can happen to any of us,” Fung says. “Vicki is a caring mom, her daughter comes from a caring family, and it happened to them,” Fung points out. “No child is safe from human trafficking.”
And according to Fung, the problem is getting worse across the country. “Now, they’re going down in age from 18, 16, 14, now we have girls started being recruited as prostitutes at the age of 11, 12 13.”
As a result, today Vicki Zito is on a mission to speak out so that no other family will have to endure the horror that her family, and her daughter, have faced.
“The reason I speak out is that 95 percent of the girls that are victims of this crime, exactly like my daughter was, have no home, no mom, no family, nobody that’s looking for them,” Zito says.
“If just one other life is spared, if just one other life is able to heal and recover and move on from this, then all of my efforts will be worth it.”
For more about the efforts of California Against Slavery to strengthen California’s anti-human trafficking laws, and its signature-gathering petition efforts for a statewide ballot initiative, go to http://www.californiaagainstslavery.org/.