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I-Team investigates human trafficking in the Coachella Valley

Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, it's happening worldwide including right here in the Coachella Valley.    

In Tonight’s I-Team Investigation: Trafficked and Terrified, hear firsthand from a woman forced into the sex trade for more than a decade, and how a county task force is now working to rescue and save the lives of those who have fallen victim to human trafficking.    

“Human Trafficking is the exploitation of another human being through Force, Fraud, Fear and Coercion. One of those elements have to be there," Aron Wolfe/Riv. Co. Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RCAHT)

According to Investigator Wolfe girls selling sex on on the streets in big cities are mostly trafficked by a pimp.   

Scrolling through the graphic pages of sex for sale in the Coachella Valley, the Riverside County Anti Human Task Force allowed us to see some of the ways they try to identify a victim of human trafficking.   

 The pictures can give off clues like if a girl is branded with a specific tattoo.     

“That's how you know this person has a pimp this person belongs to somebody,” says investigator Wolfe.

Carina was sexually trafficked on the streets of Riverside for 14 years. She had lost custody of her kids, she had no contact with family. She says she was vulnerable and dependent on her boyfriend turned pimp.  She spoke exclusively with Devine about what life was like for her.     

Devine asked, "Can you just start by telling me how old you were when you started to get trafficked and how that began?"   

Carina: "I was, at least in my middle, late 20's and I had just given up my kids. And, when I didn't have my kids anymore, I felt lost. I was vulnerable and I didn't have any money."   

"There was this man that came up to me, we started going out and I considered him to be my boyfriend. And, then things changed. He started saying that we would make money together."   

"We would rent rooms in the hotels, and he put me on the street. And he changed my whole look, I wasn't dressing like a mama anymore. I was dressing like a hooker."   

"There was different men that I had sex with and I had to make a quota and if I didn't make that quota, I would get beat."    

"When I was walking with him, I would have to look down because I couldn't look at anybody, If I looked at anybody I would get hit."    

According to investigator Wolfe, Carina's explanation of what happened to her is typical.  A girl or young woman, vulnerable, gets some attention and feels loved and the man (pimp) takes advantage of that and begins to talk her into or forcing her to start having sex for money.   

The Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force let Devine listen to a recording of an actual pimp trying to get a young girl to agree to sell herself so the two of them can make a lot of money. Below is just some of what was recorded.    

"You're the perfect age. See, you have a lot of years to get a lot of money. Anything that you would like you can begin to have it. I was looking at your pictures, you are very sexy. Let me help you."   

He promises a better life full of luxury items.     

"Just be open minded, be considerate of the fact that you deserve all this money for one. Also, think about all the shopping brands that you could have when you want to. Not asking anybody for money, having everything that you need brand new heels, brand new clothes, a new apartment, a new car."

Investigator Wolfe says there are more instances of sexual human trafficking with pimps and sex for sale on the streets in the west end of the county as compared to the east end.  There are more group homes for wayward and endangered youth which results in runaways and the chance for pimps to take advantage of a vulnerable girl.     

“What we really have here in Riverside County are massage parlors. There are hundreds and hundreds of them,” says Investigator Wolfe.   

The task force showed Devine websites where actual customers who, got more than a massage, left a review, giving the next potential client a full description of what services will be provided. That’s enough for the team to start investigating.

Devine went along with Investigator Wolfe as he did some surveillance of a massage parlor in the heart of the valley.     

“A car shows up a single white, often times it a white male just like this who shows up by themselves. So now you have this guy who is inside and now we know there’s another customer inside,” says Wolfe.    

Again, looking for any sign of human trafficking.     

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  human trafficking is a 150 billion dollar industry. It is the 2nd largest criminal industry in the world behind drug dealing, and it’s the fastest growing.     

In the Coachella Valley investigators say their cases include runaways, massage parlors, internet prostitution which usually all has ties to sex and labor trafficking.

“We all have a niche in law enforcement. This is mine. And, I think these people need a voice I think they need somebody who’s there to help them," says Wolfe.     

Carina, the victim featured in this story escaped her pimp one night while he was sleeping and checked herself into a rehab where she was able to utilize resources and get her life back on track. Rebirth Homes out of Riverside gave her a place to stay and a job.  She gets regular counseling and is now in contact with her kids and her parents.     

If you or someone you know is being trafficked there is a way out and help is available:

  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC)
  • TEXT: "BeFree" (233733)
  • REBIRTH HOMES: (951) 394-8142

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Karen Devine

Karen Devine is celebrating her 29th year delivering the local news as an anchor and reporter in the Palm Springs television market. Learn more about Karen here.

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