Northern California Teens Sold For Sex

Stop Slavery
Group Wants To Set Up Safe House For Victimized Girls

Vicki Zito’s daughter left their El Dorado Hills home in March 2008 to get a soda with a friend.

Eight days later, a special FBI task force found her in the Bay Area, where she was being sold for sex over the Internet.

“She was at a hotel being repeatedly violated,” Zito said.

The night she left home, Zito’s daughter had met up with a group of kids she knew from a local skate park. Zito said her daughter is very trusting because of a developmental disability. She’d gotten into a car with a man, who then sold her online, taking her to motels.

“You’re left with this broken, emotional child — and a fractured family as well — that’s reeling from everything that’s happened,” Zito said.

The suspect pleaded guilty in federal court to child sex trafficking. No one knows for sure how many children and teens are forced into sex for sale in the United States. An FBI task force in Sacramento has rescued more than 100 girls in the last three years and builds cases against the pimps who prostitute them. Watch: Task force targets pimps

“I think it’s the responsibility of all of us, us as law enforcement and us as a community to take care of them,” FBI Special Agent Minerva Shelton said.

Zito’s daughter has family and friends supporting her recovery. But most girls who get forced into sex trafficking aren’t so lucky.

“I think as adults and parents, it’s our job to look out for the children, not just our own,” Zito said.

Underage prostitutes walk up and down Watt Avenue in Sacramento. Law enforcement officers, businesses and neighbors can see them in an area known as the Stroll.

But many more are being sold in the shadows, over the Internet.

“The youngest we’ve seen is 11 years old,” Shelton said.

In addition to rescuing the girls, a small joint FBI-Sacramento Police Department task force also builds cases against the pimps who prostitute them.

“Once they get into this, it’s nonstop. Most of these girls see from five dates to 10 dates, depending on how busy the night is,” Shelton said.

The FBI said 85 percent of the girls are victims of broken or abusive homes.

U.S. Attorney Larry Brown’s office has prosecuted a number of child sex trafficking suspects.

“They drug them, ply them with alcohol. They’ll move them from motel to motel. They’ll swap them with other pimps either in the area or across the state lines, putting them on buses or in vans. It’s really the type of victimization of young people that should shock the conscious of anybody,” Brown said.

The FBI charges the victims with prostitution so they can put them in juvenile hall, the only secure place available.

Jenny Williamson, who runs a nonprofit raising money to build a safehouse for the girls, said she can’t disagree with that strategy.

“It’s the only safe place for them,” she said.

But Williamson and her nonprofit, Courage To Be You, hope to change that. Courage put in a $1 million offer on a piece of property with a home in a secret location. Williamson wants to provide trauma counseling, schooling and other services for victims to start over.

“It seems kind of trite, but what did you want to be when you grew up before this happened to you? And we want to help make their dreams come,” she said.

While she has law enforcement’s support, Williamson needs the community, too. Courage To Be You has to raise more than $700,000 by mid-December to secure the safe house.

“I want them to realize that this is happening to children in our area, and that it could be their daughter, it could be their child,” she said.


Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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