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Oklahoma Group Helps Human Trafficking Victims Recover

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Here in Oklahoma it's happening with human trafficking victims living among us. But groups fighting against the crime hit the streets to find them and show them a way out. Here in Oklahoma it's happening with human trafficking victims living among us. But groups fighting against the crime hit the streets to find them and show them a way out.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

The FBI calls forced prostitution one of the largest criminal industries in the country. Here in Oklahoma it's happening with human trafficking victims living among us. But groups fighting against the crime hit the streets to find them and show them a way out.

"These are people with a lot of trauma," said Dr. Kirsten Havig, an Assistant Professor at the Anne & Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. "They may be trading sex simply to get a meal or a place to stay."

Havig has worked with child and sexual abuse cases in Oklahoma for more than a decade. She says sex traffickers target vulnerable girls - typically with a history of poverty, child abuse, or addiction.

"Research I've seen says up to 70 percent of kids who are trafficked on the streets have been in the child welfare system at one point," said Havig.

In fact, only a fraction of cases, 3,598, were reported to a national trafficking hotline last year with more than a third, 1,322, involving children. Two women shared their stories with News 9 of how they were forced to sell their bodies as teenagers. Khai was just 14.

"My mom had a boyfriend who would molest me and then in turn shoot me up with heroin so he could market me to his friends," said Khai, a sex trafficking victim.

Gabby was exploited by a so-called "Romeo pimp”. These predators typically promise love, security or a job.

"To know that I'm gonna love somebody for the rest of my life that asked me to go on the street and sell my body is crazy," said Gabby.

"What happens is they get romanced," said Brian Bates, an anti-trafficking advocate with John TV in Oklahoma City. "He's flashing a lot of cash, come with me you're not going have any of these rules we're going to make a lot of money together and before she knows it, she's been turned out."

Sometimes, Bates says they're forced to sell sex by their own parents or other family members.

"She got really, really sick and couldn't work anymore so she had her daughter that was 11, 12 years old, so she just started selling her daughter," Bates said about a former prostitute in OKC.

In the past three and half years, agents with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics found approximately 48 human trafficking victims in Oklahoma City and took them to area shelters.

"When we come across someone who is actively engaged in human trafficking or is being prostituted, they initially don't see any way out," said Dr. Lori Basey with No Boundaries.

Basey says her outreach teams have made hundreds of contacts with victims to show them that there is a way out.

"We were shocked to see the amount of time that goes into establishing trust and relationships and stability," Basey said.

Once the girls get out, they take them into shelters and meet their immediate needs like clothing and food. Then they deal with the emotional trauma.

"It's just a long lengthy process that's a beautiful process but it really takes us rolling up our sleeves and just being in it for the long haul," she said.

Both Khai and Gabby escaped their traffickers and are now on a pathway to healing.

According to the FBI, a sex trafficking victim survives just seven years on the streets. If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center by phone at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).

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