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Fighting human trafficking across MD

Posted at 6:28 PM, Mar 07, 2016
It is a site Howard County detectives monitor regularly. Backpage.com is known to police to be used for prostitution, often involving girls who are victims of trafficking. 
 
Detectives saw an ad there, and answered it in mid-February.
 
Janice Figueroa and Nathaniel Lee Thompson are now facing human trafficking and prostitution charges. 
 
Police said the two brought a 17 year old girl to a local hotel where she met an undercover detective and agreed to exchange sex for money. 
 
Thompson, 28, initially got away but has now turned himself in. Police said he and Figueroa, 19, brought this 17 year old girl across state lines and forced her into prostitution. 
 
"It's a mixed reaction because obviously we're thrilled that the 17 year old got rescued, but it's complicated because one of the traffickers is a 19 year old girl and we recognize that maybe at 19 she's participating in the trafficking but where was she when she was 17 and a half? Because she didn't just one day wake up and decide she wanted to start selling another woman," Melissa Yao, Anti-Trafficking Specialist at The Samaritan Women told ABC2. 
 
 
The Samaritan Women is a long-term restoration program for survivors of human trafficking. 
 
Yao says the likelihood is that Figueroa herself was trafficked.
 
It is a world not many people think or know about. Yao said that is part of the problem. She said people tend to think of human trafficking as an international issue but that is far from the truth. 
 
"We're the fourth destination country in the world. Meaning we're the fourth most popular place for people to travel to to participate in sexual exploitation," she said. 
 
Yao said the key is to address the demand.
 
"The reality is there is study after study that has shown there is a direct correlation between pornography and sexual exploitation because you start to view another human being as a commodity instead of an actual person. ... Let's stop being a culture that makes it normalized. You have people that think it's fun to go to strip clubs for bachelor parties, when if you're still naive enough to think that trafficking doesn't happen in strip clubs, let me just clarify that now, because it does, 100 percent. There is an expectation within your first week of working at a strip club that you will participate in some type of prostitution. Otherwise you cannot work there," Yao said.  
 
She said it is on us to call out sexual exploitation, human trafficking and prostitution when we see it. 
 
"Prostitution most often is viewed as a public nuisance from a legal perspective when you think of police officers. With that in mind, if the public doesn't speak up, and say we don't want this in our community nobody is going to be worried about because it's not an issue. Community members have to speak to their police officers, have to speak to their elected officials to let them know, this is something that I'm not okay with."
 
Yao also stressed the importance of parents being aware of what their kids are doing online.
 
She said social media is one of the number one forms of recruitment, and the average age of recruitment is between 11 and 14 years old.

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