TULSA- For the first time, the United States lists itself in an annual report on human trafficking. The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report ranks countries around the world on prevention and prosecution of human trafficking.
And with three interstates criss-crossing Oklahoma, some say the state's central location is one of the reasons why human trafficking is become a growing problem right here at home.
In this special report, 2News takes a look at what's being done to fight it.
Years ago, a 19-year-old woman we'll call Kim went from living an average teenager's life in Dallas, to becoming a victim. She says she met the wrong guy.
"I was handcuffed to a doorknob, in an abandoned home. And I was pretty much held as a prisoner," she said.
For months Kim says she was held in a storage unit with dozens of other girls.
"There were times when I look back and think, why didn't I run, why didn't I fight. But at the same time, you're a teenager. And you're up against grown, adult men that have rifles," she said.
Kim eventually broke free. Now she's fighting to raise awareness. And she's not alone.
Muskogee County Deputy Jeff Gragg and his dog Apollo help monitor I-40, looking for human and drug trafficking.
"There's several thousand, probably a month, that go down our highway right here," Deputy Gragg said.
He says illegal aliens are usually trafficked for forced labor.
"They're going somewhere to work. Somebody's paid to bring them there, and they're gonna go work," he said.
Local law enforcement often face limited resources. That's where non-profit groups like Stop Child Trafficking Now come in.
They're trying to combat the problem by focusing on the traffickers. It's a new approach to a problem they say has been around for years.
"We have partnered with retired navy seals, so they go undercover to infiltrate these networks of predators," said Kristin Weis. Weis and her husband Jason are fighting the problem here in Oklahoma.
"It's not just an overseas issue. It is happening here, it is happening in all 50 states, it's happening in Oklahoma," said Jason Weis.
Lawmakers have also taken notice. Governor Brad Henry just signed a law that increases the penalty for those caught trafficking humans. State Representative Pam Peterson helped author it.
"We are probably seeing people trafficked in our own community, and are unaware," Peterson said.
Suspects now face from five to ten years in prison with a 10 to 20 thousand dollar fine. Peterson hopes it will give law enforcement and prosecutors more tools.
"Unfortunately it's happening all over. Oklahoma is right smack dab in the middle of the country, and we're seeing it in our state," Peterson said.
From those enforcing the law, to those trying to make a difference, the fight to end human trafficking starts with awareness.
Stop Child Trafficking Now is just one group fighting the problem. You can find information on this group as well as others by clicking on the associated story links. You'll also find a link to the U.S. Department of State's report.
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