VANDALIA — When the average person thinks of prostitution, many blame the prostitute and bad choices for her lifestyle. However, according to Tonya Folks, the Human Trafficking Liaison for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, many adults in the sex industry are “child victims who were never rescued.”
Folks spoke last week at Butler High School on the subject of labor and sex trafficking. Her presentation left many in the room shocked by the facts:
- The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 years old for girls and 11-13 years old for boys
- One out of three teen runaways are approached by a sex trafficker within the first 48 hours
- An estimated 1,078 children are sex trafficked in Ohio every year according to a study by the University of Toledo
- Ohio is the fifth highest sex trafficking state in the U.S.
- The bulk of the trafficking is found in the middle class
In her presentation, Folks said that prostitution is most often a form of human sex trafficking. She defined human trafficking as “using force, fraud, or coercion to control another person for financial gain.”
Labor trafficking, often called “modern day slavery,” is also a growing area of trafficking in the Miami Valley. This is often found when immigrants come to the United States and are forced to “repay” their travel fees and expenses with labor instead of money.
Sex trafficking as an extension is defined as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion and/or anyone under the age of 18 in the sex industry.
Contrary to the depictions shown on television, children are actively recruited for the sex industry in schools, churches, playgrounds, libraries, and, increasingly, online. That recruitment often involves a person who establishes a relationship and trust who uses that trust to identify vulnerabilities and then exploit it.
“Recruiters are so good they can tell within 30 seconds who is vulnerable,” said Folks. “They do a cost/benefit analysis to determine how long it will take to ‘turn out’ a kid. Society helps this because our sexualized culture is semi-grooming kids to be exploited.”
Folks conducts training intervention all around the Miami Valley. She said that one of their goals is to combat common myths about prostitution.
“There is no such thing as a teen prostitute,” said Folks. “That isn’t legal because she cannot consent. That is sex trafficking. Another myth is ‘If its not rape, its a choice.’ We know from talking to these women that it is almost never a choice.”
Folks said that in a national survey of people in the sex trade, only 3-4 percent said they were forced to become a prostitute. 62 percent said they were tricked by another person they trusted and 35 percent said they were sold by a family member.
“Zero said they chose that lifestyle,” said Folks. “Zero! That flies in the face of everything we thought we knew about prostitutes and their so-called ‘choice.’ In almost every instance they were a child sex victim who were never rescued. Yet we as a society sit in judgment more often than not. I know I used to.”
Folks said that Miller Lane, with its proximity to the I-70 and I-75 intersection is “nuclear” and serves as the “distribution center for the entire East Coast.”
“The DEA and the Montgomery County Sheriff have a unit that is 24/7 dedicated to Miller Lane, and that should tell you how much of a problem there is,” she said.
Folks said that there are signs that should set off warnings if observed. Some of them include:
- A child with a false ID or lying about their age
- A young girl made to look legal age
- Signs of physical abuse
- Girls with two cell phones
- Girls with large sums of cash
- Girls who have a “go bag”
- Young girl with an older man
Folks said that anyone who suspects sex trafficking in the Miami Valley can call the Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Hotline at (937) 374-2462 or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Folks said the very nature of trafficking makes it difficult and often lengthy to investigate in order to get adequate evidence for prosecution.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.