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Underage sex trafficking is everywhere local law enforcement looks, but will their budgets hold out?

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Sometime after her own child was born, Debbie's mother forced her to get married. After that, she cycled in and out of sex work and addiction. Her husband, a much older man, would beat her and sell her off when he needed his fix. "I would think why didn't anyone come looking for me?" she said. "Like, why aren't the school people trying to find out where I'm at?"

Advocates say victims like Debbie have always been there. We just weren't looking for them.

The only question remaining is whether we can develop a system equipped to find and treat these trauma-scarred child victims. "The system has failed most of these individuals at such a very young age," says Lujan, as we continue our drive into the Eastside. She points to young women perched on street corners and outside clubs and spills her frustration over compromised funding, stretched resources, and overburdened caseworkers. She's waiting to see whether the system again fails these young girls if and when she can pull them off the street. •

By the numbers

 

2000
Congress acknowledges international human sex trafficking, passing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. U.S. victims are included in the bill's reauthorization in 2008.

 

2
Number of full-time detectives investigating human trafficking at the Bexar County Sheriff's Department.

 

50
Average number of human trafficking cases investigated by those detectives each year.

 

2
Number of successful child sex trafficking prosecutions by the Bexar County DA's office.

 

90
Number of cases flagged by Bexar County juvenile justice since 2009 as possible child sex trafficking cases.

 

(Sources: Bexar County, Texas Attorney General's Office)

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