More Children Becoming Victims of Sex Trafficking in Fresno

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. - Child abuse can come in various forms, including sex trafficking. According to the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, hundreds of people in the city have been trafficked in the last seven years, and more than a hundred of those victims are children.

The Fresno Police Department said this form of child abuse is on the rise not only in the country, but especially here in the Central Valley.

Coalinga-native Carissa Phelps often shares her harrowing story of how she survived being trafficked at the age of 12 in Fresno County. She said it can happen to anyone and anywhere.

“It's the younger the youth are, they're more targeted. And they're trafficked because of their youth sometimes. And they're more vulnerable because of their youth,” said Phelps.

Phelps said she was a runaway pre-teen and homeless. That lifestyle led her into the hands of dangerous men, who forced her to have sex against her will for money. She said you may have not known she was in trouble, much like some children who are victimized today.

She explained, “It’s hard to see, right? It’s hard for me to say, ‘Oh, that person is being trafficked and just see it when it's coersion.”

Phelps' story is unfortunately not unique. Debra Woods has lived a similar life. Now, Woods runs the sex-trafficking victim advocacy non-profit organization Breaking the Chains.

Woods said, “My mother was trapped in a life of sex trafficking. She was on drugs, in and out of prison. Some of my earliest memories were from Motel Drive. So, I actually remember sitting out on Motel Drive right here in Fresno and sitting underneath the old palm trees out there while my mother was standing in front waiting out on the road waiting for johns to arrive.”

Both Phelps and Woods agree, children in the Central Valley need to have the tools at a young age to know how to avoid being trafficked.

“I was looking for acceptance. I was looking for a place to belong. I was looking for affirmation,” stated Woods.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said sex trafficking continues to rise in the city, but how they handle those cases has changed.

Dyer said, “For many years, law enforcement… we got it wrong. We targeted the girls as prostitutes, as suspects.”

“We need to focus our efforts on creating a criminal record for those people who are buying, those people who are harming, those people who are purchasing and creating this problem. It’s really them,” stressed Phelps.

Dyer said people involved in sex trafficking rings will be seen as victims. He said now they're focus is to get those women and, in some cases, men, off the streets straight to help. And that's where organizations like Breaking the Chains comes into play.

Woods said, “We actually provide residential trauma treatment, where women and their children can stay for nine months and up to two years.”

And for survivors like Phelps, it's all about making sure there is one less victim of this form of child abuse.

“There is hope for you. You do have potential, there is something you love doing that isn't something about exploiting you or harming you and doesn't put you in harm every single day,” stated Phelps.

In 2009, the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission founded the Central Valley Against Human Trafficking organization, which also helps victims of sex trafficking. For more information, click here.

Don't Miss

Trending Stories

Latest News