As gem show nears, advocates call on public to help combat sex trafficking

Published: Jan. 20, 2017 at 11:32 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:19 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Advocates against human trafficking are calling on the community to step up ahead of one of southern Arizona's largest events.

On Friday, Jan. 20, the Tucson Police Department and local, state and national experts are coming together to go over their plan to tackle the underground crime before the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase begins.

"We need to come together as a community and tackle this issue," said Sheila Pessinguia, a probation supervisor and juvenile detention alternative
coordinator at Pima County Juvenile Court.

Tucson's gem show kicks off Jan. 28, and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the area.

Officials with CODAC say sex traffickers cater to the high demand that comes with the event.

Last year, CODAC helped 62 people get out of the business in Tucson.

Workers admit it's a battle to keep the criminals away and get the victims the help they need.

"We always want to be really aware of what's going on," Pessinguia said. "That just critical. So if people see something they can report it."

Pessinguia adds there is a misconception about people involved in sex trafficking.

"Anybody is susceptible to being a victim of sex trafficking," she said. "They don't self-identify and even when we have a real good feeling that they are trafficked they still don't admit it."

The Southern Arizona Anti-Trafficking Unified Response Network (SAATURN) in collaboration of the Tucson Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and the U.S. Attorney's Office working together with CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness held a community forum.

SAATURN has been able to help dozens of survivors in the community with housing, counseling, medical care and emotional support with the help of a $1.5 million grant they received from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The goal of the collaboration is to provide comprehensive services to trafficking victims by identifying and addressing their needs for safety, security, and healing.

As well as proactively investigate, identify, apprehend, and prosecute those engaged in human trafficking.

Monica Anderson, advocate and survivor, spoke at today's forum.

"When I was 15, I was kidnapped by pimps. And then over the course of two years, I kept getting arrested and I kept going back to my trafficker." said Anderson.

She said she was able to break free from the cycle with the help of programs for survivors. She now uses her experience to help fight trafficking as an advocate.

"We can try different things.. if you don't have the people that have actually gone through it to know if it works or not then, we're just going to be doing things over and over again." said Anderson.

"Everybody's come together really well working in collaboration. Working all the way from the federal level to the local level, which I think is amazing," Pessinguia said.

Signs of human trafficking are everywhere.

It is important to know what to look for so that you can report human trafficking.

There will be a Human Trafficking 101 workshop on Tuesday, January 24, 2016 at 9 a.m.

Location: Pima Community College, 401 N. Bonita Ave.

You may be able to identify a victim of trafficking if they exhibit one or more of the following:

  • Poor health and the inability to seek care for health concerns
  • Visible injuries such as bruises, scars, or burns
  • Visible tattoos that could be branding marks
  • Carries excess amount of cash
  • Has hotel room keys
  • Unable to leave their home or work without approval
  • Exhibits fear, anxiety and/or depression
  • Has false identification or multiple forms of ID
  • Seems unfamiliar with their surroundings
  • Has distrust for authorities
  • Does not know their home address
  • Allows others to speak for them when addressed directly

Trafficking may occur in these types of settings:

  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Stripping
  • Escorts
  • Brothels
  • Domestic servitude
  • Construction
  • Agriculture
  • Nail salons
  • Hotel housekeeping
  • Poverty

If you or someone you know may be at risk, you can call the SAATURN hotline number at (520)837-2775.

There is also a national Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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