Amid the onset of social media, prostitution has found a new outlet for “meetups.” Prostitutes now book clients online and gangs recruit teenagers for sex trade purposes.
Anne Arundel Community College hosted a Sex Trafficking Awareness Rally April 10-12, featuring students who were visually transformed into victims of sex trafficking through revealing clothing and makeup, which made the women look battered.
Anne Arundel County Police Department Capt. Randall R. Jones Sr., the commander in the department's Special Enforcement Division, said sex trafficking in the county is rare, but it does happen.
The new theme of prostitution is flying into Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, working out of hotels, and then leaving after a short period of time, according to Jones
“Social media is a huge problem because they will set up meetings over the Internet,” Jones said.
The county police department has detectives assigned to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the FBI Exploited Children Task Force. Both groups target human sex trafficking in the local region.
In 2011, Anne Arundel County arrested 21 females for prostitution, five males for attempted solicitation, and six males for human trafficking under the state charge (acting as a pimp), Jones said. Additionally, three juveniles were recovered.
“It’s not like it’s an everyday occurrence,” Jones said. “But traditional prostitution leads to violent crime—robberies, rapes, thefts. A criminal element follows that type of crime. It definitely leads to more violence.”
Jones said people are involved with sex trafficking for various reasons. Some are illegal aliens paying off debts. Others are runaways or youth introduced to someone at a party who become engaged in sex trade practices.
Jones said he has seen cases where children involved in sex trafficking are as young as 12 years old.
Shamere McKenzie, a sex-trade victim, spoke about her experience.
“Drugs aren’t a revolving profit,” she said. “A person is a revolving profit. Sex trafficking is easier.”
McKenzie said she became trapped in the sex-trade business through a boyfriend—who she thought was the perfect guy. This man said all the right things and promised to help her pay for college expenses. She wanted to be a lawyer, which entails years of college, so McKenzie was grateful for the opportunity.
To her horror, she quickly discovered that her boyfriend was a pimp.
McKenzie now shares her story, hoping to help protect other young women and encouraging victims to speak out.
“I tell people if it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true,” she said. “Pimps prey upon your dreams, and before you know, you’re being trafficked.”
Nicole Williams, a community college coordinator and associate professor for Human Services and the Human Services Club, spearheaded the April 10-12 event on sex trafficking at the request of Staci Fowler Beall, a Human Services Club member and an advocate for sex-trafficking victims.
“People don’t realize this exists,” Williams said. "People think this is a choice. People are being manipulated into prostitution.”
At the event, club members wore temporary tattoos as a reminder that people should not be for sale. Students were also dressed like sex-trafficking victims to highlight what it can do to a person.
“It made me want to get more involved,” said college student Delia Carr. “People need to be treated more like victims within the law. They really don’t have that status now.”
Crime scene tape was placed around the women to emphasize that it is a crime.
“What these traffickers are doing to these girls is stealing their innocence and it’s criminal,” said Beall. “Anne Arundel County is bad for Maryland because of BWI, and we’re unique because of the Port of Baltimore. Law enforcement is concerned now with the opening of the casinos, there will be more.”
Beall has been lobbying in Annapolis to push laws into bills submitted by the Human Trafficking Task Force. But these bills are not getting out of the committee to be voted on, she said.
The reason they're stuck is because people are not attending legislative sessions, Beall said.
“If they don’t hear from people, they are not going to care,” she said.
One Maryland law Beall is currently lobbying is to make the charges for abducting a child for the purposes of prostitution a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
“Shamere had a gun pointed at her mouth and was forced to have sex with men for money. Now she’s a sex offender. The laws just have to change,” Beall said.
Beall also advocates awareness, and warns people to keep their eyes open for strangers.
“Most predators attend school. They continue on with their life," she said. "If someone seems disoriented—that’s a sign.”
The Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention (GOCCP) and the
Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) will host a two day
conference to communicate a total statewide approach to combating human trafficking and serving survivors May 21-22 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville Campus.
The fight to stop trafficking continues Sept. 29 in Washington D.C. in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.