A young mother from Tennessee wanted a better life for her kids — who had been taken into state custody — so she agreed to prostitute herself to make money.
That decision landed the 18-year-old with a pimp in South Florida. After months of living in the shadows, having sex with men for money, she texted a John she trusted to call 911.
Her pimp beat her just before police arrived. He was arrested and investigators with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force helped her find a home and seek counseling.
While this teen’s story took a positive turn — she made it back to her home state and is now engaged — not all cases turn out as well, said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, speaking at the third annual Human Trafficking Forum Tuesday at the University of Miami.
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“It’s a long road to recovery,” she said. “ It’s our moral and legal responsibility to stop this modern-day slavery, rescue these girls and prosecute their predators.”
Currently, about 300 sex trafficking cases are pending in Miami-Dade County.
Among the speakers at the forum: UM President Donna Shalala, Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and film and video director Gil Green, who spoke about the glamorization of “pimps and hoes” in today’s hip-hop.
Shalala said “there is nothing worse on this earth than sex trafficking and it takes a village to combat it.” Carvalho has committed school resources to help identify victims.
Human trafficking investigator Emilliano Tamayo said finding shelter space to take the girls once they are rescued is a challenge. In a recent case, an 18-year-old, drugged by her pimp, needed a bed. He said he finally found one in Homestead and had 30 minutes to get there.
“We made it,” said Tamayo. “But we need more places to help these girls heal.”
In 2012, the state passed tougher laws that increased penalties for offenders. Also in 2012, Rundle started the task force, taking the county from no cases to 150 the state attorney’s office has closed.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, recently announced her support of 12 bills to combat human trafficking throughout the world.
Also on Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced that Rafael Alberto Cadena-Sosa, a Mexican national, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez to serve 15 years in prison for participating in a family-run sex trafficking organization based in southern Florida. Another family member, Carmen Cadena pled guilty and faces a maximum sentence of five years.
“The long prison sentence imposed upon Rafael Alberto Cadena-Sosa is a testament to the cooperation and commitment of numerous law enforcement agencies both here and in Mexico to stop this appalling criminal activity,” said Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI Miami Office in a release. “We will continue working with our partners to dismantle human trafficking networks such as this one that operate in the shadows and brutalize their victims.”