Fighting the child sex trade
Tulsa churches are being recruited for a national campaign to fight child sex trafficking.
Lynette Lewis, who lived in Tulsa for 25 years and was president of Leadership Tulsa, launched the campaign from her New York office, where she is a business consultant.
She met with leaders in Tulsa in November about the campaign, and will talk about it at 9:45 and 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Sanctuary Church, 8621 S. Memorial Drive.
Lewis said she first learned about child trafficking from a young woman in her church.
"I was absolutely shocked. I wanted to do something," she said in a phone interview this week.
"Most people feel that this is an overseas issue," she said, but the United States is now the No. 1 destination to traffic children.
It is hard to get exact numbers of children who are being held as sex slaves, but experts estimate about 200,000 in the United States are at risk, and 27 million worldwide, she said.
And Oklahoma is not exempt. A U.S. State Department video on the problem has an interview with a young, blond girl about 12 or 13 years old who was forced into prostitution at an Oklahoma truck stop.
"The more you learn about it, the more depressing it is," said Lewis, who is working on the campaign with her husband, Ron.
Together they are planning a national campaign to raise awareness about the issue.
That campaign will include Walk to Stop Child Trafficking Now! events
Sept. 27 in 50 cities, including New York and Tulsa.
The next step of the campaign will be activation, getting average Americans involved.
Lewis believes the real solution will be the arrest and prosecution of people who buy and sell children.
"We're focusing on the demand side," she said.
Building a case
More than 100 organizations are involved in just rescuing girls, but for every one rescued, another will be sold into slavery to meet the demand, she said.
The Lewises' organization, Strategic Global Initiatives, plans to develop teams of private citizens, many of them former elite military, to investigate and build cases against traffickers, working with law enforcement agencies.
"Trafficking is a well-oiled machine, driven by people who are making millions of dollars. It requires elite knowledge to build a case that will result in convictions," she said.
Trafficking in children is the second most lucrative global crime, she said, next to drugs.
Special Agent Gary Johnson, spokesman for the Oklahoma Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the agency has charged several people with taking under-age girls across the state line for sexual activity.
"We take any type of human trafficking very seriously," he said. "We have individuals assigned across the state that are prepared to target any individuals or groups that are involved with child trafficking."
Johnson said he would characterize Oklahoma's trafficking problem as about average, compared to other states, but said it is still "a considerable concern of the FBI."