TULSA, Okla. — Children running away from home and being forced into sexual slavery is a problem that the Tulsa Police Department says has exploded in the past few years.
Since March of 2019, the Human Trafficking/Vice Unit of the Tulsa Police Department has made 59 human trafficking-related arrests including 29 federal indictments.
This is up from none in 2018.
Tulsa police told 2 News Oklahoma that the human trafficking of children is now a growing issue, and they are working around the clock to rescue our city's most vulnerable.
2 News Oklahoma recently had the opportunity to go out with the Tulsa Police Department's Human Trafficking/Vice Unit on a sting targeting the buyers, but now we want to talk about the victims, where they typically come from and why it's so hard to leave a life of sexual slavery.
“It can be out of a car, out of a hotel, out of an apartment, out of a home, we rescue them from all over," says Lt. Brian Wilson.
Wilson is a lieutenant with the Tulsa Police Department's Human Trafficking/Vice Unit. He says now more than ever they are seeing young runaways being forced to sell their bodies for sex.
"They get sucked into a life they never could have imagined," Wilson says.
And sometimes these children find there's no way out.
One of the ways Wilson says pimps keep them from escaping is by making sure they stay hooked on drugs.
“So, they are sucked in, they’re hooked and the only place to get their narcotics is from their abuser. There is just no way out.
If you are running these women and you are preying on them and forcing them to do sexual acts against their will, your overhead is low," he says.
Profits for the pimps can be high.
“She works all day. She is victimized 10 times by 10 different men, a minimum of $100 a pop. Already you are looking at $1,000 on the cheap end, and then you work her 7 days a week and that’s $7,000 a week times 4, that’s $28,000 a month," Wilson says.
He and his team of investigators spend thousands of hours working on these cases doing everything they can to help these women and children escape.
“There are some weeks where every day we are identifying and encountering a new victim every week," Wilson says.
He says one of his biggest hurdles right now is a lack of investigators.
"The hours spent on each one of these cases it’s not just identifying our victim, finding our victim, and rescuing her, but it is literally almost 1,000 man-hours affect the fact of bringing it to a successful prosecution.”
The Tulsa Police Department is recruiting men and women to regain its authorized force of over 900 officers, and that lack of officers really impacts the Vice Unit.
“Our authorized strength is for a lieutenant, a sergeant and 6 investigators. Right now, currently with the manpower crunch that the department is under, I am down to 4 investigators and it’s tough," he says.
But Wilson and his team say they'll keep fighting for justice... hoping to prevail in the end with a rescued child.
“I think our youngest victim of a case that we worked was 4 years old," says Wilson. The strength it takes for them to testify, it’s huge. It’s absolutely huge and the amount of trust that they have to have in us, that’s hard to build," he says.
Wilson says it's so important to let the people around you know how much you love them because one of the common things they see in human trafficking victims is runaways who don’t have a lot of positive, male influences in their life.
He also says he’s so grateful for the organizations that work with them to bring healing to the rescued victims, and they really lean on service providers to carry on the mission.
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