Katarina Rosenblatt was recruited by a ring of human traffickers in South Florida to be sold for sex when she was 13.
Like many victims of this crime, Ms. Rosenblatt recalled being a vulnerable youth with low self-esteem stemming from a troubled home life with an abusive father. Her experiences being sexually trafficked also left her with long-term emotional scars that becoming an author and advocate have helped her overcome.
“There continues to be a strong presence of domestic sex trafficking and it is facilitated primarily over the internet on various advertising pages, but also through social media,” said Sgt. Wade Williams, head of the human trafficking unit with the Collier Sheriff’s Office.
A form of modern-day slavery, human trafficking is legally defined as a person who is exploited for sex or labor by force, fraud, or coercion — or as a minor under age 18. Ms. Rosenblatt wrote a memoir called “Stolen” about her experiences primarily in the 1980s, before human trafficking was identified as a crime.
“The human traffickers select their victims purposely,” said Michael Dolce, an attorney in Palm Beach Gardens who represents victims of sexual violence. “They don’t just pick anybody.”
Runaway children who have been in the care of social services or foster care are especially vulnerable and make up a disproportionate number of victims of trafficking, Mr. Dolce said. He argues that when they go missing, there is often little effort to find them when compared to children from traditional families.
“Children disappear from foster care all the time and we never hear about it,” he said. “… I just don’t see the type of aggressive response from case workers and law enforcement when other children go missing.”
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says one out of six of the 18,500 runaways reported in the U.S. in 2016 were likely sex trafficking victims; and of those, 86 percent were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing.
“I’ve got absolutely no reason to believe that Palm Beach (County) is any different because the problem is systemic, nationwide,” Mr. Dolce said.
One young woman he represented, who was sexually abused in a foster group, ended up “in the clutches of a pimp” within only a few days after she left the home at age 18. She told him what she had learned in the group home: “I have a gold mine between my legs.”
Mr. Dolce said that although law enforcement has targeted trafficking rings, the number of missing children in the foster care system in the U.S. and Florida is creating a supply of victims that law enforcement and social services agencies have not focused on.
“We also have to consider where the supply of victims is coming from,” he said.
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