“When you're looking for poor, broken women who've been abused, these are fertile grounds,” said Mark Elam of the Tulsa-based Oklahomans Against Trafficking of Humans. Human trafficking victims are forced or coerced into sexual or labor exploitation. Often they or their loved ones are threatened. Some are kidnapped, beaten or tricked into situations where they're made to do things against their will. Many of the exploited are undocumented workers. Elam said from 200,000 to 300,000 minor girls from the U.S. are drawn into the sex industry each year. Joseph Otrhalek of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. “You can keep using human beings over and over repeatedly, so it's a lucrative and nasty business,” he said.
Oklahoma's position along the Interstate-40 and I-35 corridor makes it a hub for traffickers smuggling people in from Mexico and Texas port cities, says The Oklahoman. The problem was discussed yesterday at a human trafficking conference in Oklahoma City. Social problems in the state, including high poverty and incarceration rates, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy and drug addiction, make it a prime area for traffickers seeking vulnerable women and children to exploit.