Fighting Online Sex Trafficking in Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK (KATV) —
Tonight, we're taking a look at how criminals are using the internet to sell Arkansans for sex and what local law enforcement is doing to combat the problem.
Little Rock Police's vice unit has been using those same internet sites to beat these criminals at their own game since 2012, but there also out there looking for victims of sex-trafficking, especially victims that are underage.
Backpage.com is one of the most visited sites for prostitution and escort, but it's also used for sex-trafficking.
As many as 19 johns were arrested for sexual solicitation and other related charges just two weeks ago, and so far this year, two underage victims were rescued.
Hundreds of men and women are using the internet to sell themselves and make a quick buck, whether you're just looking for an escort to an event and or even see; all ages, races and faces can be found on Backpage.com.
While many are engaging in prostitution on their own free will, others are falling victim to the sex-trafficking world that's now using the internet to push their prey.
"That's where a lot of it starts, the advertisement starts there, the connection starts there, the connections with electronic media starts there and Backpage is not the only site, there's Craigslist, there's Escorts.com," said Sgt. Allen Hamby.
Hamby, part of the Denied Innocence Task Force, is one of very few officers dedicated to Little Rock's vice unit, combating crimes such as prostitution and sex-trafficking.
"We have technicians, we have analysts, we have detectives that get on here and do the same thing they're doing every day of the week trying to learn and trying to beat the criminal system," said Hamby.
Hamby added that while many willingly start using sites like Backpage, thinking it's just a one or two time deal to make some cash, it can also be a dangerous virtual world that quickly turns into reality.
"If you someone that's been in the business for a long time and knows a lot about Backpage, that's where they'll do the recruitingthey'll ask them to come in and show them what they're going to post, they'll show them how pretty the pictures will look on the thing, they'll post it for them and then once they start making the money then they start taking the money," Hamby said.
The cycle then starts, the victims bring in the money, but many need that money to feed an addiction when the pimps take it, victims become even more helpless.
"I started selling my body, mainly to stay highI hate to say that, but I wanted to be numb, I felt like the world had given up on me," said one female victim.
This victim spent three years in what she called a trap house; a place she said was for prostitution, drugs, and selling guns. She eventually got out, but was traded to a madam who then sold her on Backpage.com.
"I would either do that at her house, they call that in-calls, or out-calls, they put it in the ad, so I would go wherever they needed me to go or they would come to us," she said.
She added, that she never thought she would get sucked into prostitution saying these pimps and madams put victims like her through a grooming process.
"They're giving you the finer things in life, you're living a lifestyle that's awesome, you're going to clubsyou're enjoying dinner, you're getting dressed up every night," she said.
"I mean you have Gucci this and Prada thisit was just awesome, money, endless moneythat runs out real quick when a new girl comes, and then they tell youyou have to pay for everything they got you."
It's been 9 months since she sought help and got out going through a local program called PATH.
Partners Against Trafficking Humans is a non-profit that has helped hundreds off women since 2011, with 85 percent of them being sold on Backpage.
"There is help for girls that need it, unfortunately there are not enough services in the United States or anywhere in the world to care for the number of girls being victimized, but at least it's a start," said PATH Founder, Louise Allison.
Another Arkansans victim to be trapped in sex-trafficking online is Barbara Curruth, 23.
"When I was 18-years-old, I was kidnapped and made a prostitute and they had me on that website and I had done that until the age of 23," said Curruth.
Curruth adds, while it wasn't easy to get out of the game she now's been off the internet and streets for the past 5 months after seeking help through PATH.
"Besides depression, it causes anger, caused a lot of emotional problems where you'll have to go and get some help and therapy to get through those," Curruth added.