A local advocacy group will be using a dramatic display to protest sex trafficking at major Gem, Mineral, and Fossil showcase sites this weekend.
Jerry Peyton, Executive Director of Sold No More, a Tucson-based organization combating the selling of children for sex in Arizona, said big events like the Gem and Mineral show attracted sex traffickers from around the country into Tucson.
Peyton said women were advertised on the internet, as well as by word of mouth at hotels, motels and events surrounding the Gem and Mineral show. To raise awareneness, the group planned to set up a life sized doll box outside major events. Inside the doll box would be a young girl, representing a victim of human trafficking.
"You know when you go to a store to buy a doll, she's in a beautiful box. We think nothing of buying the dolls for our kids or grandkids. I think most of us are shocked to find out that people are actually buying girls,little girls. They're renting them, paying for these girls who are then dressed up. They dress them up to sell them," said Peyton.
Peyton said this was a personal cause for him because his own daughter was a victim of human trafficking.
"We've met several victims here. We have one right now who was just last week being sold in Tucson by a man who made $10,000 through her in the last month.
Beth Jacobs, a human trafficking survivor who was held as a sex slave from age of 16 to 22 said she was very familiar with that world. Jacobs said her "pimps" typically took the girls to big events around the country like conventions, and the World series. Jacobs said events like the Gem and Mineral show brought back some dark memories for her.
Jacobs founded the organization Willows Way to help victims of sex trafficking get back on their feet. Jacobs said the girls told her stories of how competitive the world of prostitution gets during big events that draw a large number of visitors.
Jacobs said the pimps advertised the girls on websites, and made deals in hotel rooms. They could not legally state a girl was underage but typically used words like "young", "fresh", or "inexperienced" to represent underage girls.
Jacobs said the "Johns" who paid her for sex did not seem to care about her age.
We browsed around on popular websites and found several women advertising their services for "gem show clients" and calling themselves "gem show hotties".
According to a press release issued by Sold No More: "Mr. Peyton has first-hand knowledge of child sex trafficking during the Gem & Mineral show, including a seventeen year old girl being sold during last year's show. According to Mr. Peyton, "She was picked up in a law enforcement sting operation at a local hotel, along with adult women who were being prostituted. The girl had no identification, no money and no contact information, but she did have her pimp's name tattooed across her neck. She was brought to Tucson from Texas. No one knows what happened to her after she was picked up and then ran away from a youth group home."
Tucson police were unavailable for a comment on our story today.
"It has nothing to do with the gems and minerals. It is a big event. I hate to say it, but when thousands of men are away from home they think they can be anonymous and buy sex from girls. We want to let them know we don't tolerate that here in Tucson," said Peyton.
According to facts listed on the website www.soldnomore.org 100,000 US children are trafficked annually. The average age a child enters into sex slavery is 13. 30% of runaways are approached by traffickers within 48 hours. Statistically, some 300 runaway girls in Tucson will be approached by traffickers just this year. 6-10 minors are arrested annually in Pima County for prostitution, and only 1 percent of the girls who experience sex trafficking receive help.