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“He threatened to kill her,” said Kirsta Melton, an assistant Bexar County district attorney who prosecuted the case. “She was literally tied to the bed. … A guy from the neighborhood recognized her and rescued her.” She said the neighbor had refused an offer of sex and “figured out a way to get her out.”

“It never occurred to me how many child sex trafficking cases there were,” said Ms. Melton, now in charge of such prosecutions for the county.

Knows firsthand

Ms. Milgram, the former New Jersey attorney general, also knows firsthand about prosecuting trafficking cases. She tried two of the Justice Department’s biggest international sex trafficking cases and one of the first ever under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. In that case, two sisters went to prison for 17 years for forcing Mexican girls, some as young as 14, into prostitution. Later, she became the lead prosecutor for sex trafficking cases.

Now teaching a course in human trafficking law at New York University, Ms. Milgram said prosecutors need to bring more cases. The 243 her Justice Department office brought between 2000 and 2009, she said, were “a great start but not enough.” She also said local prosecutors were not getting the job done and that while New York City advocacy groups have identified hundreds of sex trafficking victims, New York police have made only a small number of arrests.

“We have to do better,” she said.

The issue of sex trafficking has attracted the attention of several elected officials. This month, Oregon passed a bill establishing harsher penalties for sex trafficking, as did Texas. Maryland passed three such bills this month to pay for training in schools, to give law enforcement additional surveillance and wiretapping tools, and to remove prostitution convictions from sex trafficking victims’ records.

Similar laws were enacted this month in Minnesota, Nevada, Missouri, Tennessee, New York and Michigan.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, a Republican from Gwinnett County, outside Atlanta, has been pushing for years to strengthen Georgia’s sex trafficking laws. She said it has been “very, very tough” to get men to talk about the issue, but added that people are starting to understand that the girls should not be treated as criminals but as victims. She said more services and facilities are needed to treat them, but it is “very costly to take care of these types of victims.”

Georgia lawmakers passed a bill last month that toughens penlites for people who traffic children for sex. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

‘I was not human’

Jane’s fall into the world of sex trafficking began in May 2008, just before her 15th birthday. Jackson, her pimp, forced her to work as a prostitute in Portland. When she protested, he beat her. “He made me believe I was not human and I was just for one thing — to make money for him,” she said, calling her life a nightmare and suffering bruises and scars from many beatings.

Asked why she didn’t leave, she said, “I had nowhere to go. I didn’t know anybody. Where was I to go? He threatened to kill me all the time.”

On one occasion when he got mad because she had not made enough money, she said, he pushed her down and punched her in the face, saying, “You are going to die tonight.” She said she pleaded for her life and promised to do whatever he said: “Just don’t kill me. I thought I was going to die.”

Of that beating, the FBI later said, “She awoke to find Jackson holding a firearm at her head and swearing on his mother’s life that he would kill her.” The bureau said that “several times a week,” Jackson choked her, pulled her hair, pushed her and struck her with his hands, a belt and a coffee pot, and that he “tried to bite off her finger.”

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