Sex Trafficking Summit a step toward saving lives
I don't know how many young women may be caught in a web of sex trafficking on the Treasure Coast.
No one really seems to know.
Sex trafficking luring young girls into the country or preying on domestic runaways with promises of work or school that are screens for what becomes forced prostitution is one of those shadowy, gray worlds everyone knows exists.
The problem is pinning it down.
"We know we have human trafficking," said Lt. John Silvas, who works in major crimes, homicides, forensics and identification with the Martin County Sheriff's Office. "And human trafficking easily becomes sex trafficking, and trafficking in drugs and guns, that's an issue for us and it all goes hand in hand," Silvas said.
Silvas said he knows of a case involving young girls who were being brought to the area from Miami to be prostitutes in Martin County.
"And I could tell you about a case in 2006 where Russian women were brought in through Sandsprit Park and were going to be taken from here to New York to work in strip clubs," Silvas said.
The potential is there because of the human smuggling in Florida for it to be a major issue, Silvas said.
And that's where Margaret Richebourg and others with Soroptomist International and an organization called Shared Hope, founded by former congresswoman Linda Smith, enter the picture.
Both organizations are working together to hold a summit Thursday in Stuart involving law enforcement, community leaders, media and others to talk about sex trafficking in an effort to determine just how serious it is in our communities, and what to do about it.
One of the reasons it's such an "insidious" crime, Richebourg says, is because the very nature of the business keeps the victims from being able to go to law enforcement or find help elsewhere.
"These are young girls who have been fooled into thinking they're going into some kind of paid business. They've even been told they're being sent to work at something or maybe go to school. But the moment they arrive wherever it is they're going to, they're picked up by a pimp and immediately thrown in to sex trafficking, prostitution," Richebourg said.
One high-profile case in Fort Pierce last year involved a 14-year-old girl from Veracruz, Mexico, who was lured into the area with promises she'd be able to make good money at a restaurant. Instead, she was forced to be a prostitute to pay back the $2,000 it cost to smuggle her into the country.