Startling new data indicates that more homeless youth are reporting sexual coercion.
In fact the number is up from 25 percent last year to 35 percent this year.
Anita Roman has more on a center working to help those young victims.
Her eyes are filled with pain...a life time of hurt and abuse.
“I was told that if I ever tried to leave, he would kill me.” “If he couldn’t find me, he would kill my family and I believed that.”
Leah Rodgers was trapped in a lifestyle she never imagined would be hers...
“I was already in the sex industry,” Rodgers said. “I was a stripper here in Arizona and he trafficked me from the strip club.”
Rodgers described years of sexual coercion...a struggle to find self-worth...and a voice to seek help.
“What really woke me up was when I was raped at gun point and I just prayed to God that he would get me out of this lifestyle,” said Rodgers. “I didn’t want to do it no more.”
Unfortunately, Rodgers is not alone. A survey conducted by the Tumbleweed Youth Center for the second year in a row found that more and more people fall victim to sex trafficking...especially homeless youth.
Currently, 35 percent of homeless young people are currently citing a history of sexual coercion compared to 25 percent last year.
Moreover, the average age of first sex trafficking experience is 15 and more than a third of those surveyed have attempted suicide.
“Sex trafficking by the federal definition is forced fraud or coercion,” says Melissa Brockie of the Tumbleweed Youth Center. “So someone is forced, frauded or coerced by another individual to exchange sex for money, clothing, sometimes a place to stay, sometimes just transportation.”
Brockie says the youth center just received a grant from the Department of Justice and the Office of Victims of Crime that will allow the non-profit to offer additional services and supportive housing to victims.
“It is really much more prevalent I think than we initially thought,” Brockie said. “Initially I think when we talked about human trafficking and sex trafficking it was an international issue, it wasn’t something that locally we really thought was happening, but what we have done at Tumbleweed is partner with ASU and Our Family Services down in Tucson.”
“Going to jail…when I was in jail I stayed there for quite some time,” said Rodgers. ‘I said if I ever get out I don't want to do this anymore.”
As for Rodgers, facing charges that stemmed from her pimp’s arrest opened her eyes, forcing her to get help. She now uses her voice to let others know they don't have to walk in her shoes.