- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Six months ago, Barbara Amaya said she was watching a story on television about teenage girls being trafficked for sex in her Northern Virginia neighborhood when she realized that she, too, had been the victim of sex trafficking — four decades earlier.

“I didn’t know I had been trafficked,” she told an audience during a panel discussion on human trafficking sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation and the Women’s Federation for World Peace at The Washington Times. Ms. Amaya writes a column called Telling It Like It Is for the Communities section of The Washington Times website. “I viewed myself as a prostitute.”

Ms. Amaya, now 56, said she was a 13-year-old runaway from Fairfax when she was sold into sex trafficking at 14th and Eye Streets in the District and later was taken to New York City where she was trafficked for eight years. Like a lot of girls forced into sex trafficking, she said she had been abused as a child and at 12, began running away from home.

“I was a walking target,” she said. “I didn’t have low self-esteem, I had no self-esteem.

“I was raped so many times, I can’t remember. I became addicted to heroin and numb to what happened to me,” she said, adding that her trafficker dumped her when she was “no longer valuable to him.”

Ms. Amaya described herself as “a survivor” and is now working to vacate her criminal record in New York City under a new law, but lamented that “this is still happening to young girls. What happened to me is not unusual.”

The Universal Peace Federation was founded by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of The Times.

Three other speakers who work to stop human trafficking said it has become an “epidemic,” both in the U.S. and worldwide.

“There are 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide,” said Cynthia Turner, executive director of SeraphimGLOBAL, an international public health and community development organization. “The number is staggering yet incidences of trafficking are often underreported.”

Human trafficking generates billions of dollars each year in illicit profits in the United States and globally through the entrapment and exploitation of millions of people, mostly women and children. The growing illegal trade in human beings for sex or forced labor isn’t limited to either rural outposts or the world’s largest cities.

Ms. Turner said the root causes of human trafficking are poverty, sex abuse, drug dependency, violence and broken families.

“All nations must speak in one voice to end trafficking,” she said, adding that America must lead the fight.

In the United States, the number of persons said to be the victims of human trafficking is between 14,500 and 17,500, according to Julie Southwell, a field organizer for Amnesty International USA, a human rights organization. But she said, “The actual number is much higher.”

Yvonne Williams, executive director of the Trafficking in America Task Force, a Tennessee-based nonprofit, said America is suffering from “an epidemic of modern slavery known as human trafficking.

“No one signs up to be a sex slave,” said Ms. Williams, adding that an Alabama study found that 50 percent of trafficking victims were introduced by family members to it due to drugs or poverty.

Ms. Williams described as “fabulous” a speech President Obama gave last week on human trafficking, although she said he should have talked about working to curb the demand for trafficking. In his speech, Mr. Obama called trafficking “modern slavery” and “one of the great human rights causes of our time.”

Last month, he gave seven countries listed by the State Department as making little effort to control human trafficking including a pass on government-mandated sanctions and a loss of foreign aid, citing national security concerns. They were Libya, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, the Central African Republic, Kuwait, Papua New Guinea and Yemen.

• Chuck Neubauer can be reached at cneubauer@washingtontimes.com.

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