Auburn Police, FBI vigilant in war against child sex-trafficking

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The story of child sex trafficking is coming to Auburn this Friday but is similar criminal activity happening in the community? Indications from the FBI and Auburn Police are that so far, it is not. While no arrests have been made yet in Auburn, Placer County hasn’t been immune. In recent months, a woman was arrested in Roseville on suspicion of pimping a minor and false imprisonment in a case that has yet to go to trial. That case involved a 15-year-old girl who was allegedly held against her will for two weeks, Roseville Police said. Syla Debra Thongsy, 21, of Roseville has been charged with pimping a minor and false imprisonment. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday. But higher up the hill, there has apparently been no similar cases. An FBI agent who coordinates the Sacramento area’s “Innocence Lost Task Force” said she hasn’t heard of any cases in Auburn. But sex trafficking has been rampant in Sacramento. With seven girls ages 15 to 17 taken in, Sacramento was ranked second to Seattle among 34 cities that were part of an FBI underage prostitution sting last November. The FBI, working in cooperation with Sacramento city and county law enforcement, is investigating on the Web as well as on area streets to rescue minors and prosecute pimps. “Once it gets on the Internet, it becomes more hidden,” FBI agent Minerva Shelton said. The Sacramento-based task force has rescued about 200 children since it started in October 2006 as part of a nationwide initiative. Auburn Police Chief Valerie Harris said human trafficking problem – both in forced laborers and prostitutes – isn’t a visible problem in Auburn. “But when you consider that it’s a worldwide problem, there’s no reason to consider Auburn wouldn’t be included,” Harris said. “And Auburn doesn’t need to take a blind eye to the possibility.” Rocklin’s C2BU (Courage To Be You) group will be presenting later this week what is being billed as an awareness concert on the horrors of sex trafficking. The event starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Bayside Auburn Church. Soroptimist International of Auburn is also raising awareness in the area and Rocklin’s William Jessup University has just made human trafficking the focus of its on-campus International Justice Day. Shelton said that while ways of entrapping young girls in prostitution vary, one common denominator appears to be that they come from abusive homes. “They’ve experienced physical or sexual abuse,” Shelton said. “They’re kind of the kids who have been thrown away and are on the street.” “Throw-away” is a term that describes a child who may be living with a grandparent and is told to leave because the adult cannot handle them anymore, she said. “They’re the perfect targets for a pimp,” Shelton said. Harris said that she’s advocating for an active push to better educate law enforcement in the area on what to look for. The Auburn police department is already highly attenuated to look for and know the signs of runaways. “We really take those reports seriously,” Harris said. Studies have shown that by the third time a runaway has left home, there is a grave likelihood of the child being enticed into a sexual encounter, she said. “Sometimes they’ll put themselves in circumstances that seem harmless but they end up in situations where they’re forced into sexual encounters,” Harris said. Harris said that after learning more about human trafficking at a multi-agency seminar last month in Sacramento, she’ll be pushing herself and police staff on the best ways of investigating the crime, understanding how to move forward on an arrest and prosecution, and pinpointing available resources in the community to provide the proper level of support so that the victim doesn’t re-engage in the same activity. Shelton said that wherever prostitution has established itself, child prostitution will follow. She points to the My Redbook Website as an example of how prostitution is thinly disguised and ads for “dates” in women seeking men sections are come-ons for paid sexual encounters. The site has listings for a variety of communities, including Sacramento. “They’ll not say anything outright,” she said. “Instead of $300 for an hour, they’ll say 300 roses.” The sites have listings for massage parlors and strip clubs as well as apparent prostitution. Customers can even rate services. With the ability to prosecute crimes that have moved onto the Internet, the FBI is investigating posts on the sites and finding advertisements for child prostitutes, Shelton said.