916.695.6882; jazmineulloa@gmail.com

A long way to go on crime so close to home

By Jazmine Ulloa

The girls Ellen Parsons wants to help don’t tell.

They don’t trust adults. They don’t use words like pimp or prostitute. And they don’t view themselves as victims of an ugly, multimillion-dollar sex business that exploits hundreds of thousands of adolescents every day. Instead, Ellen says, they see the trade as a way to survive and remain independent in a system that has often misunderstood their struggles — and in the worst cases treated them as criminals.

All of this was initially tough for me to grasp, as Ellen and I sat in her office at Lifeworks, a youth advocacy center in South Austin where she works as a counselor.

The term sex trafficking tends to conjure images of girls and young women brought into the country from faraway places, lured by opportunities, forced by abductors. But over the past decade, we have slowly, painfully come to realize that some of the most vulnerable victims of the vicious rings that travel across the United States do not come from abroad. They were born and live here.

We have a long way to go before we can offer our help.

We don’t think of girls and young women so close to home caught in the throes of an ancient model for an ancient profession: Pimps using manipulation, coercion and perverse versions of love to control their victims.

But at least the city of Austin is attempting to take a step in the right direction. The anti-trafficking organization Restore A Voice is working with other area nonprofits and the Austin Police Department to create a shelter specifically for U.S.-born girls and teens found in Central Texas.

Right now in Austin and across the country, the two options these adolescents tend to face are time in juvenile detention or placement within the catchall net of shelters operated by state child protective services or private nonprofits. These places cater to abused and neglected children, domestic violence survivors and their families, but social workers say they are not equipped to handle the complex trauma of trafficking survivors.

And most have not yet developed ways to screen for sex trade victims.

Through special training and years of experience, Ellen has found her own ways to tell apart the young girls and teens caught in the life.

Sometimes, she listens for the subtext in their conversation. Often, she watches what they carry. Wads of cash they stuff under a mattress or in the dark corner of a drawer. Expensive cell phones. Brand-named clothing. “Those things they could not have afforded on their own,” she says.

But how do you count all of the numbers of girls in the shadows?
 

To read more on efforts to bring a shelter to Austin click here.

 

Human trafficking: A look into a shadowy trade

Austin shelter for sex trafficking survivors under development

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
 
A local nonprofit is leading efforts to create a shelter in Austin for sex trafficking survivors. Expected to open next year, the shelter should have beds for up to 30 girls from across Central Texas.

Larry Megason, executive director of Restore A Voice, said the group has found an undisclosed location for the facility and plans to unveil a $1.3 million capital campaign in November that would fund the land, building and operation costs through the end of 2013, including pay for administrators and counselors.
Full story.

A long way to go on crime so close to home

By Jazmine Ulloa
Blog post, From the desk of…

The girls Ellen Parsons wants to help don’t tell.

They don’t trust adults. They don’t use words like pimp or prostitute. And they don’t view themselves as victims of an ugly, multimillion-dollar sex business that exploits hundreds of thousands of adolescents every day. Instead, Ellen says, they see the trade as a way to survive and remain independent in a system that has often misunderstood their struggles — and in the worst cases treated them as criminals.
Full story.

A survivor of the sex trade tells her story

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
 
Trapped in the underworld of the multimillion-dollar sex trade, Jes Richardson says she was afforded only one luxury: sending postcards home to her mother.

She was 17, she remembers, when she was lured into a West Coast prostitution circuit by an older man who made her feel like a queen and promised her travel to faraway places and exotic beaches.

But she never stepped foot in the ocean. Instead, she says, she found herself on a cruel and disorienting journey that quickly moved her and other girls from city to city, john to john, through Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and British Columbia.
Full story.

State lacking data on human trafficking, officials say

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
 
Texas legislators and law enforcement officials say they are facing challenges in collecting statewide human trafficking data that could be used to drive investigations and policy decisions.

No uniform reporting system exists to track the arrests and convictions associated with the modern-day slave trade of people forced into labor or commercial sex, and the state agencies tasked with measuring its scope say they are struggling to receive accurate statistics from police departments and courts.
Full story.

Sex traffickers prove harder to catch as they move online

Courtesy photo

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
 
The sex industry has evolved in the past two decades, moving from the streets to computer screens, and authorities in Austin and across the state say their efforts to enforce the law and find and protect victims are hampered by the shift.

Detectives said they have made strides to fight what they describe as a modern-day form of slavery by enhancing their collaboration across jurisdictions and their use of tools on the Web, where victims are easier to hide, predators harder to catch and evidence tougher and more time-consuming to gather. But authorities said offline efforts are just as important, such as training officers, emergency responders and residents on how to detect potential sex trafficking circles in their own communities.
Full story.