Underage sex trafficking is everywhere local law enforcement looks, but will their budgets hold out?
Published: February 8, 2012
While the details of her abuse are disturbing, so is how the case was ultimately caught.
After Maldonado forced her to sleep with an elderly man, a john in his late 60s, the girl fought back. She ran from a Westside motel room with the man's pants and wallet. When Edgewood School District police found her, they arrested her for theft and locked her up. "When we went back and looked we couldn't believe it," Burchell said. "It was book her, then slammer. She just went through the system. No one was paying attention."
It was only in juvie that the girl finally got treatment for her drug addiction, learned she had HIV and hepatitis C, and slowly began to divulge the details of her abuse to a therapist. Seven years after the child was first coerced into the sex trade, her pimp Maldonado pleaded no contest in May of 2011 in exchange for a 10-year sentence.
At a conference with local health care providers in January, Miriam Elizondo, vice president of client services at Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio, said a central problem is that victims are slow to self-report. Typically, she said, fewer than one percent of the Center's clients identify themselves as trafficking victims. And when the Center took to reviewing its cases, Elizondo says they were shocked to find how many children were being classified as sexual assault or child abuse victims when they could have been trafficking cases. "It's crucial we identify these cases," she said. "There are significant long-term needs involved."
Some clients, she said, come in unable to speak, contemplating suicide or have already attempted suicide.
Melton's other successful prosecution is the highly publicized case of a 12-year-old girl forced into sex slavery at an Eastside crack house. Brothers Juan and Bobby Moreno kidnapped the child and locked her in the bathroom, according to authorities. According to the girl's testimony, the brothers raped her and then kept her for 10 days. Customers at the crack house could pay extra for sex with the girl. In all, she was forced to have sex with about 25 men, and when she resisted she was tied to the bed. According to court records, some of the johns snapped nude photos of the girl with their cell phones. Eventually a neighbor came to the house, recognized the girl, and rescued her.
Burchell, who eventually investigated the case, recalls interviewing the girl. "When I walked out of that room, I got teary eyed. She described some of the most sadistic shit that a human being could endure." Melton says the girl has never really recovered. "She has continued within the juvenile system to struggle significantly." Juan Moreno received four life sentences in late 2010. His brother Bobby is set to be tried on similar charges this coming spring.
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