Victims of sex trafficking

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(Host) It’s been two years since the death of Christal Jones. Commentator Cheryl Hanna remembers her story.

(Hanna) It was on the first day of the 2001 New Year that Christal Jones telephoned her mother from the Bronx. She had run away from the protective custody of social services in Burlington, and been gone for months. Her mother was worried sick. State authorities allegedly knew that the 16-year-old was in New York, but no one went to get her.

It would only later be learned that it was 25-year-old pimp named Jose Rodriquez, who met Christal in the small, lakeside college town, either outside her halfway house or at a local club, and then, pretending to be her boyfriend, lured her to the big city with promises of gifts, and drugs, and love. It was there authorities believe that she started working as a prostitute.

Her mother begged her daughter to come home. Chrissy, as her family called her, promised that she would. Two days later on January 3, Christal was found smothered to death in a seedy apartment in the Bronx, 300 miles and a world away from Burlington.

More than two years have now passed since news of Christal’s murder shocked us, and neither Vermont or New York law enforcement have yet to identify her killer. But they have identified what appears to have been an organized effort by sex traffickers to befriend young, vulnerable girls and then seduce them to leave Vermont for other locations, eventually forcing them to work in the commercial sex industry. It is incredibly difficult to know just how many American children are recruited into the sex trade by organized trafficking operations, although it’s estimated that more than half a million children like Christal are at risk.

So why would a girl take that first step down that ever-so-slippery slope, where the point of no return is closer than she thinks? Most girls aren’t motivated by lust or greed, nor are necessarily drawn in by addiction. Like Christal, most are lured by love. They do these things to please their so-called boyfriends. And in that sense, they are no different, really, than many, many, teenagers who look for love in all the wrong places.

One of the best ways to protect our children from being targeted by men who claim to love them and then exploit them, is talk to them about what it means to be in a healthy, loving relationship. Remind them that people who love them won’t offer them drugs or ask them to do things that just don’t feel right.

The people who profit from the five billion dollar commercial sex industry are rarely held accountable. Yet the children are often treated as criminals, or written off as runaways, as if they didn’t belong to anyone. As we mark another anniversary of Christal’s death, it’s important to remind ourselves that each of these girls is somebody’s daughter.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.

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