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Sex Trafficking

Recruitment Goes Social

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Jessi Knight, volunteer for a prostitution outreach program at the Phoenix Dream Center called The Rescue Project.

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Typically the first contact is the outreach work.

“We are the only street prostitution outreach in Phoenix. We go out weekly to areas where street prostitution is taking place, and take two or three minutes with the girls and give them a gift bag or flower,” Knight said. “Letting them know that when they are ready to get out of the game, we can place them in a sex trafficking recovery program to start the healing and rebuilding their lives.”

The organization is the largest strip club outreach in the region, and has handed out gifts to more than 800 women on its Phoenix route, she said. Because the program is in contact with so many women, its administrators developed an off-campus program which includes a 24-hour crisis hotline, one-on-one mentorship, free counseling, girl-time bonding events such as regular Saturday breakfasts, small support groups to develop a support system and anti-recruitment awareness classes.

“We have outreaches at the malls, games, concerts, and Backpage. We’re working on the massage parlors, we will get there by 2015,” Knight said.

The post-contact category involves the center’s care team, which handles the street prostitution crisis line and connects resources for the particular community that is in crisis.

As of March, the center had done 63 rescues in Phoenix since August, Knight said.

“Whether it is a girl being trafficked who wants to get away from her pimp, or a mom selling herself on Backpage to feed her family, we are there for them with resources,” she said. “It could be a weekly donation of food from a food bank or a tactical street interdiction rescue squad that snatches the victim away from her pimp.”

The community partnership function comprises community members who want to get involved in serving victims of sexual exploitation through the outreach program, the care team, or through donations. It seeks to educate the community about where the sex trafficking corridors are, what sex trafficking recruitment looks like, and what sex trafficking abduction looks like.

“Never leave a public area alone with a person you do not know. Do not let a person you do not know take pictures of you with their cell phone then threaten to tell your parents what you did,” Knight said. “Again kids talking to people they don’t know for attention; that is how they get them at age 12 to 14. A majority of the girls I talk to were recruited at age 14 from a chat room or from the mall because they wanted to feel pretty and this person made them feel important, beautiful, and cared for.”

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She said as it is for all societal issues, identifying the problem as it walks past us on the street — and knowing what can be done to help — is an elusive pursuit.

“I find, most of the time, our community does not know how to report sex trafficking activity because they do not know what they are looking at,” Knight said. “A majority of my team knows how to tell the difference between a person walking home from work and a prostitute waiting for a Jon to pick her up. My team knows when they are being interviewed by a pimp when they are at the mall or pumping gas at a gas station. Once they know what to do, they feel empowered to do something, so we call the TRUST AZ number or we will report it to the proper law enforcement authorities.”

She said keeping neglected, abused people of out the hands of those who would wish to exploit them is also difficult because the attraction is really a pursuit of affection.

“He/she (pimps are not just men anymore) is looking for someone they can sell; a particular “product,” low self esteem, an absence of parental attention,” she said. “They are “caring,” charismatic, and all about taking care of your needs.”

Forced abduction is a small percentage of trafficking victims, Knight said. About 70 percent is relational recruitment, and 70 percent of the women on the streets have children who the pimps keep while they are working, Knight said.

“Pimps have rented houses in communities. I feel the community needs to feel empowered to report sex trafficking. If they are afraid to report to the police due to retaliation they can just call us and we will report it for them without divulging the source,” Knight said. “If something looks fishy, report it. Pimps do not want to make a scene. It is better to cry wolf and be wrong, than to have a friend, neighbor, or family member disappear and end up in slavery.”

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Chris Braswell is the managing editor of Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at

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