TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Sex trafficking – it's a hidden crime but it is happening right here in our community.
On Saturday the local non-profit group "Sold No More," held their Walk 4 Freedom to help raise awareness on the issue.
Jerry Peyton, the Executive Director of Sold No More, said more than 2,000 7th through 12th graders in the Tucson area are involved in sex trafficking every year.
His own daughter was sex trafficked when she was just 14 years old.
Peyton said a close classmate of hers had committed suicide. She felt guilty and had a difficult time dealing with the trauma and ran away from home.
"She winds up from being a model kid to living in a home with four men who were using her for sex, taking her to Nogales to smuggle drugs across the boarder. So she says yeah all of the sudden I'm prostituting, drug smuggling and pole dancing at 14," Peyton said.
Peyton created the non-profit, Sold No More, six years ago after his daughter was rescued from sex trafficking. He's dedicated his life to putting a stop to it in Tucson. He said 80 percent of sex trafficking victims are runaways.
Sold No More is the only organization in the U.S. providing sex trafficking prevention education throughout a school district. He said traffickers are increasingly using social media and phone apps to contact vulnerable teenagers.
He said students are also pressured by their peers to provide sexual photos or perform sexual acts.
"We talk about your cell phones and images. Images of minors, sexual images, that's called child pornography. It's a felony to have it, show it, or send it. I was standing next to a teacher in the assembly and she said, do you see what the kids are doing in the bleachers? They all pulled their cell phones out – they're deleting pictures, because they all have it," Peyton said.
Peyton said we all need to keep our eye out for warning signs of how to spot a sex trafficking victim. He said young girls wearing stiletto heels is typically a universal sign for predators that she's "for sale."
He also said girls checking into hotel rooms with much older men, and avoiding eye contact – are also suspicious signs that you need to report to law enforcement.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. You can text INFO or HELP to Befree 233733. For more information on Sold No More click here.