Header image from KETV7. This story was originally published in December of 2016.
Police are crediting Northern California Uber driver Keith Avila for helping rescue a teenage girl out of sex trafficking not long ago—a girl he gave a ride to in his car, along with her two suspected female pimps, according to a report by ABC7.
“They started like talking, like saying everything that was going on. Like what they’re doing, child sex trafficking,” Avila said.
Avila says he had just picked up the two women and a 16-year-old girl and brought them to the Holiday Inn, where the two women allegedly pimped the girl out to a man for sex. Minutes after dropping them off at the hotel, he called the police to alert them of what was going on.
“Police arrived fast. They don’t play. They do not play. Not when you’re doing child sex trafficking,” he said.
Police arrested the two women, Destiny Pettway and Maria Westly, for various charges relating to pimping and pandering. KTXL reports that the man who was purchasing the teenage girl, identified as Disney Vang, was arrested for sex with a minor.
When asked if he was afraid and why he made it a point to alert the authorities, Avila answered simply:
“I can’t just drive away. I’m mean, of course not. That’s not even an option. Honestly, I didn’t think about it. They said what they said, and it’s one of those things that you just do.”
Avila says it was the conversation between the adult women and the girl who tipped him off to the suspected crime that was about to go down.
“‘You’re gonna hug them, you’re gonna pat them down, make sure they don’t have no weapons. You ask him, ‘Do you have any weapons?’ And then ask for the donations. Say ‘Do you have my donation?’ Get the donation first. And then before you go in and do anything, get the donation first.'”
And all the while, Avila says the victim was obviously just a kid.
“I looked at her in the eyes. She had this face of innocence, and like insecure,” he said.
Police are grateful to Avila for getting involved and making a difference.
“He could’ve said nothing. Went on his way, collected his fare. And then that 16-year-old victim could’ve been victimized again by who knows how many different people over the next couple of days, weeks, months,” Elk Grove police Officer Chris Trim said.
Why this matters
One man saved someone’s life just by listening and being observant, and not being afraid to call the police. We could all learn from his example and be aware of our surroundings—knowledge and awareness are the first steps to combatting this global issue.
The fact is, sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, and porn are more closely linked than society would believe, and it’s time we spread the facts. The truth is that sex trafficking is an existing global issue made worse by pornography. Any form of sexual exploitation only fuels the demand for the sex trade as a whole.
We live in a world that needs to see concrete numbers to legitimize an issue. Unfortunately, since sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are underground businesses, those numbers are hard to come by. But a lot of what we do know about the current state of the industry comes from survivors, and they have a lot to say about how porn was largely connected to or included in their trafficking or exploitation. Here are just a few broad stats:
– By some estimates, 4.5 million people are trapped or forced into sexual exploitation globally. (International Labor Organization)
– Sex trafficking is big business—it generates $99 billion annually, just from commercial sexual exploitation alone. (International Labor Organization)
– In one survey, 63% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online. (Thorn)
Research shows that men who go to prostitutes are twice as likely to have watched a porn film in the last year compared to the general population. It’s also not surprising that when these customers show up, many come ready with porn images in hand to show the women they’re exploiting what they want to do.
And they’re not the only ones using porn as an illustration. “Pimps and traffickers use pornography to initiate their … victims into their new life of sexual slavery,” says Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, a former UN representative and a senior fellow at the Beverley LaHaye Institute. Through exposure to porn, these victims “get hardened to accept the inevitable and learn what is expected of them.”
Also, in a study done in 2007 of 854 women across nine countries who were sexually exploited, 49% said that porn had been made of them while they were in being sold for sex, and 47% said they had been harmed by men who had either forced or tried to force their victims to do things the men had seen in porn.
We fight to bring awareness to the fact that porn isn’t harmless entertainment, and the porn industry wouldn’t be what it is today without sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Porn is commonly made of victims of sex trafficking and put online or sold to distributors. These sex slaves are forced, coerced, and abused into doing porn. For porn consumers at home, there is truly no way to know the dark origins of where the porn comes from or whether what they’re consuming was made consensually. Stopping the demand starts with us.
Check out the following nonprofit organizations to learn more about how you can get directly involved in the fight against sex trafficking:
This Washington D.C.-based nonprofit is one of the most recognized organizations in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris systemically disrupts the human trafficking networks by helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate.
Rescue: Freedom International
Based in Seattle, Washington, this nonprofit has partner sites in 8 countries, that support sex trafficking victims and gives them “anything and everything a survivor needs to experience long-term healing and restoration.” While local partners are working on the ground, Rescue:Freedom is the supply line for that work by providing operational funding, scholarships, training, best practices, infrastructure, and other essential resources.
Operation Underground Railroad
O.U.R. takes a boots-on-the-ground approach to combatting sex trafficking by gathering trained extraction operations specialists to bring an end to child slavery. O.U.R.’s Underground Jump Team consists of former CIA, Navy SEALs, and Special Ops operatives that lead coordinated identification and extraction efforts. These operations are always in conjunction with law enforcement throughout the world.