Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Awareness - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Awareness To A Growing Problem

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(FOX 11) Every year there are over 300,000 children at risk of being sold into prostitution in the United States. In fact over one thousand children are sex trafficked. California is one of the top three states for sex trafficking. Often children who become victims of abduction, kidnapping, or missing child cases ultimately are sold into prostitution.

According to Erin Runnion, the founder of the Joyful Child Foundation, the more parents learn, the more they're able to protect their own children.

In July of 2002 Erin Runnion lost her little girl, Samantha forever. "The car pulled up and asked Samantha if she would help find his lost puppy. Samantha was kidnapped and was found the very next day, sexually assaulted and murdered," said Runnion. Erin didn't want her daughter's death to be in vain.

She started the Joyful Child Foundation in Samantha's memory. This organization is dedicated to preventing crimes against children through programs which educate and empower families and communities, before children become victims of abduction or worse.

"Every year there were 58,000 non- family related abductions and of those about 115 are cases like those of Samantha's where it's a complete stranger and the child is not recovered alive," said Runnion.

Each case is different, but in each case there is a victim. The reality is often abduction leads to exploitation.

Dr. Barbara Hernandez is a member of the leadership team of Crittenton Services, a non-profit which provides residential and community services to trafficking victims. "One point six million children run away and one in three will be solicited by an exploiter within 48 hours of running," said Hernandez.

Hernandez says exploitation starts at an early age. Girls as young as twelve to thirteen years old are being sold into prostitution. "The girls that we're seeing, 90 percent of them were approached by their first pimp at the age of 13 and by 16 they're already at their third or fourth pimp," said Hernandez.

Tracy Webb prosecutes cybercrimes and child abuse cases. According to her the biggest problem is that most people don't realize how common trafficking is. "A lot of people aren't aware that we really do have a problem with human trafficking right here in our own backyard - if you ask a bunch of people they would say oh that happens someplace else," said Webb. From a law enforcement standpoint Webb says it's impossible to simply arrest and prosecute out of this problem. The community needs to get involved and become part of the answer. "We can't do it alone so we need organizations like Erin Runnions, we need organizations like Crittenton and others out there to help us," said Webb.

Erin Runnion didn't have a chance to save her daughter. But she is hoping to save other little girls, like Samantha.

January is national slavery and human trafficking prevention month. The Southwest Conference against trafficking is happening in Pomona January 17 -19. There will be a number of speakers, groups, organization and workshops open to the public. Here's a link for more information.

www.SWCAT.org.

http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e8s9k18uhqbdgmln/start

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