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Sex trafficking: The new American slavery

The pathway leading to the dark corners of human trafficking began in the fluorescent-flooded hallways of a Florida middle school.
Sacharay, which is how she wants to be known, was 14 years old and looking for a friend.
"I used to get picked on a lot about being dark-skinned. I started wearing glasses and was called 'four-eyes.' And then they knew because I was so sensitive, they knew it was getting to me," she said.
But when an older classmate approached her and offered to be her friend, Sacharay thought maybe her fortunes had finally started to turn.
"I thought she was like my best friend because I could tell her everything. One day she asked if I wanted to skip school and have fun, you know, so we went to the barber shop. When I was there, she introduced me to these guys," said Sacharay, now 19.
One of the men, in his mid-30s, immediately took notice of Sacharay. He soon began courting her with gifts, paying her compliments and offering advice on the daily dramatics of adolescent life.
"If me and my sister would be arguing, he'd be like, 'You can't get into an argument with your sister like that.' He was more like a dad, but then again we had sex, so it wasn't. It was just in the communication and how he talked to me," she recalled.
It was child rape.
But this subtle, subversive mix of romantic love and parental care can create havoc in the mind of an adolescent, said Anique Whitmore, a forensic psychologist in Atlanta.
How to help sex trafficking victims
"What we know about sex crimes is that it's not about sexual pleasure. It's about control," said Whitmore. "What is similar to some of those girls that I work with is their self-esteem or lack thereof. You either become vulnerable to a man on the street or a man you meet in school. You become vulnerable because you're looking for attention."
Soon, Sacharay's trafficker began asking for "favors" — asking her to help make some money for him, by sleeping with another man.
"He was like, 'I love you for that, I love you so much,'" said Sacharay. "Then he would slowly put two, three more guys. I got upset when I first realized what he was doing, but I kept doing it because he made me feel like I was special."
The exploitation continued to escalate. Sacharay soon was being sold to dozens of men a day. She would meet these sex buyers in motel rooms near a freeway, or even sometimes in the back of the barbershop.
"One day I was like, I can't do this no more. I was in pain. I had sex with almost 40 guys in one day, and I was so tired, and I said, 'I can't do this no more.'"
Her trafficker didn't care. He made sure she knew leaving was not an option.
"He went into the other room, came back with a gun, and he was like: 'If you go somewhere, we'll see.'"

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