It’s a global and complex problem. One that makes you outraged just at the mention of its name.
Child sex trafficking.
We grimace when we hear it, a statement as ugly as the action itself. Child sex trafficking (CST) is a form of child abuse that occurs when a child under 18 is advertised, solicited or exploited through a commercial sex act. A problem that’s growing in the U.S. at an alarming rate, traffickers are masters of manipulation and tend to prey upon vulnerabilities using psychological pressure and intimidation to control and sexually exploit a child for their benefit.
Traffickers can be male or female, an unrelated individual or even a family member. Recently, in Tucson, Arizona, a 14-year-old child was identified as a victim and recovered. With more victims possibly out there, special agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are asking for your help to identify those that may have been victims of CST in relation to a recent arrest of two alleged traffickers.
According to a recent press release, Maurice Fitzgerald Alexander, 31, arrested in Tucson, Arizona, and Erica Lucia Navarro, 31, arrested in El Paso, Texas, were simultaneously arrested on Oct. 21. Both Alexander and Navarro are facing sex trafficking charges and neither defendant has been awarded bond.
In early October, HSI Tucson says that special agents responded to the 14-year-old child victim who reported that she had been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Throughout their investigation, the agents discovered that the minor had been exploited in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas between August and October 2021.
“Although travel is not necessary in child sex trafficking cases, it’s not uncommon for traffickers to move from city to city or even across state lines in an effort to evade detection by law enforcement and maintain control over their victims,” said Staca Shehan, vice president of the Analytical Services Division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Like many other cases of CST, the victim reported that she was first contacted and recruited on social media. As HSI agents continue to investigate the scope of these alleged traffickers, they strongly suspect that there are additional victims associated with Alexander and Navarro. Now, they’re asking anyone who may have had previous contact with the alleged traffickers or thinks that they may have information relevant to the investigation to call ICE’s Tucson office at 520-229-5100.
In partnership with NCMEC, service providers and other federal, state, and local agencies, HSI takes a victim-centered approach to child sex trafficking investigations by working to identify, recover and connect survivors to resources that can provide specialized services.
“When a survivor of child sex trafficking is recovered it is a disruption, or a pause, in their victimization. This disruption is as un unparalleled opportunity to begin to break the cycle of exploitation through intentional, planned, trauma-informed and victim-centered engagement,” said Shehan.
When these cases occur, NCMEC has dedicated resources to help identify and recover children victimized through CST. This comprehensive approach provides training, case management, clearinghouse resources, analytical support and peer support to survivors, families, law enforcement, victim service providers and other professionals.
Within one of our programs, the Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Team, NCMEC provides guidance and resources to child welfare workers, foster parents and law enforcement who are working with missing children who are also victims of CST. Through this program, NCMEC’s recovery specialists assist in the development of intentional, trauma-informed and victim-centered plans which have been proven to increase opportunities for youth engagement and reduce trauma response.
Survivors of CST are often unable to self-identify as victims or disclose their abuse because of fear, shame or loyalty to their abuser(s). It is not a child’s responsibility to ask for help. It is up to professionals and trusted adults in the child’s life to recognize the signs associated with CST. HSI encourages the public to report suspected sex trafficking or any suspicious activity through its tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE. Suspected child exploitation can also be reported to NCMEC at CyberTipline.org.
To learn more about this and other resources to combat child sex trafficking please visit: