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      Children for sale: Sex traffickers targeting Americans

      When people speak about the sex trafficking market, experts say it not surprising to hear about places like Thailand, India, some European countries and even Mexico.

      "It's like this underworld activity that most Americans just don't realize," Jenny Clark, associate professor at South Texas College in McAllen, said.

      Experts on the human and sex trafficking markets gathered for a conference in McAllen, to discuss the multimillion dollar, international industry, that TMs quickly spreading to new markets, including right here in the Rio Grande Valley.

      "In my mind it was always in the far east, in the Middle East, maybe in Africa but certainly not in the developed nations and not in our country, Family Crisis Center Executive Director Brenda Heredia said. Much to our horror it is - it is a reality here in the United States and here in the Valley."

      Heredia said she was alerted by the FBI recently, that sex traffickers are making bold moves. They are scouting middle and elementary schools, looking for their victims.

      American born children that sex traffickers are mostly looking for, are children with low self esteem, experts said.

      But this market is no child's play - sex trafficking is a lucrative business.

      It's estimated these criminals make hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars off each sex victim.

      "One victim of sex trafficking in one day services as many as 50 men " 50! Heredia said. That tells you, over the course of a week, hundreds of people are taking advantage of this"

      If one sex victim services 50 clients per day, and charges a minimum of $50 dollars per client, the victim could service up to350 clients per week. That would translate to a minimum of $17,000.

      Heredia also said criminals are looking to get anywhere from 10 to 15 years of service out of each victim.

      That means from just one sex victim, traffickers can make anywhere from $8.4 million to $12.6 million, over the course of 10 to 15 years.

      Getting the most bank out of each victim is one of the reasons, Heredia said, the average age of sex trafficking victims has drastically decreased.

      "We're talking 12, 13, 14, 15 years of age, Heredia said. The age now for average sex trafficking victims is now 12 years of age! If you can easily get a child, think about that, it's (their) investment - it's more long term now. (They TMve) got 10 to 15 good years that (they) will be making money on this individual - not so with older ones."

      Sex traffickers are subtle in luring children, they don't just snatch children from the streets, Heredia said. Instead, they methodically lure and groom them using the same techniques as child predators.

      "They'll befriend them say, ~would you like to go get a hamburger, can in give you this present? TM Heredia said.

      It could take just days or months to spot the child they want, experts said, but once they find that vulnerable victim, sex traffickers move in fast.

      "It takes within 24 to 48 hours of a young girl running away from home for a pimp to approach her " literally, Clark said. And that sort of figure is really startling."

      Common spots where sex traffickers like to make fast and easy money are truck stops, Clark added.

      "If you drive from (the Valley) to Houston, and you stop at any of the truck stops at night, you see young girls all the time, Clark said. In fact, if you look at the truck drivers, they often have bumper stickers that say ~no lot lizards. TM I TMve interviewed some truck drivers and they (tell me) things like, ~I go and get a cup of coffee and I come back to my truck into my cabin, and literally there's a young girl sitting next to me. TM One truck driver said, ~you know you're like about 12 years old, go home!" Clark said.

      Heredia said several years ago, she dealt with two American girls that came from middle class, average families who ended up as sex trafficking victims. She said they were from Texas, not far from the Valley, and made their money at truck stops for about two years.

      "A young girl who was over 18 wanted to get away from home - wanted to get away and go to the big city so she ran away, Heredia said. She was hitch hiking so within 24 hours of her running away, somebody who picked her up bought her a meal|(and) bought her new clothes, very seductive clothing, Heredia said.

      In return, Heredia said, the pimp forced the girl to pay him back for the food and clothes by working as a prostitute at truck stops.

      Of the three cases of Texas children lured into sex trafficking - which were from Houston, Austin and San Antonio - Heredia said she knows of just one being rescued.

      Clark and Heredia agree that parental vigilance over their children's behavior and activities, especially on the Internet, is what could make the difference in preventing them from becoming a sex trafficking victims.

      "When there is a dollar to be made, Heredia said. The traffickers will move in and take advantage."