SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It’s shocking to learn that Sacramento is one of the top five cities in the country suffering from human trafficking, and it’s not slowing down.
Tyron Van Tran, 20, one of Sacramento’s most wanted, was recently arrested for allegedly pimping out an underage girl. Police say a routine traffic stop put him behind bars.
“Obviously these are children that are being victimized,” an undercover Sacramento police officer said. “They come under the spell of these pimps.”
The officer says cases like Tran’s are very common. According to the FBI, of the nation’s top five worst cities experiencing the epidemic of child trafficking, Sacramento is second on the list.
Girls as young as 12-years-old — children desperate for love — are being preyed on by pimps.
“CPS kids, foster kids, they’re runaways,” the officer said. “You’re dealing with kids living on the streets that don’t eat that often sometimes and don’t have a place to stay. It’s survival for them.”
The pimp becomes the new father figure, the officer says.
“Don’t make a mistake to think that all of these pimps are males in Sacramento. We’ve arrested several females,” he said.
Most Sacramento teen sex slaves are not found on the streets.
“With the Internet, it’s not that easy. Girls are working out of hotels, motels,apartments sometimes,” the undercover officer said.
But when they’re rescued by the task force, they often go back on the street within days.
“For whatever reason it is, they stay in that lifestyle and run back to that lifestyle,” the officer said.
However, not all hope is gone.
“When I was 18, I had a roommate that was prostituting,” said Julie Debbs.
Debbs, a former prostitute, spent a lot of time on the streets. She started in college to help pay for books and tuition.
“I was immediately hooked on the fast money and from that age, age 18 to age 38, I remained a sex worker for 30 years,” she said.
Debbs left school and spent three decades selling her body and addicted to heroin.
“As I started hanging around people in the lifestyle, I had different pimps throughout the years,” said Debbs.
Cases like Debbs’ are very common.
“They come under the spell of these pimps,” the undercover officer said.
“Mentally, when they get a grip on your mind, they get a grip on your whole body,” said Debbs.
She broke free from human trafficking more than a decade ago when a former prostitute began mentoring her.
“She believed in me. She had faith in me. She gave me a vision for something else. She never judged me,” said Debbs.
Now she’s part of a Sacramento nonprofit organization that does the same thing, Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH). It’s led by volunteers, Sacramento police officers and former prostitutes.
Organization co-founder Sacramento police Sgt. Cindy Stinson says they’ve helped rescue hundreds of women by doing peer-to-peer mentoring.
“You see them now, clean and sober and with a job, and some going to school, it’s powerful,” said Stinson.
Visit the CASH website to learn more about what the organization is doing in the community.