Officials crack down on human trafficking

WICHITA, Kansas – Local law enforcement are renewing their efforts against those engaged in human trafficking, offering exploited people, often women and children, for sex and forced labor.

“It isn’t until you start talking to these girls that you realize that no one does this because they wake up one morning and think, ‘You know, my job as a secretary is kind of boring, I’d rather go be a prostitute,’” Marc Bennett, the Sedgwick County District Attorney, said.

Two recent cases have brought human trafficking back to the forefront. Last month, two suspects were arrested at the Sunflower Motel for offering two teenage girls for sexual favors.

In the other case, three defendants face trial in federal court in October on trafficking charges, after attempting to solicit women from as far away as New York and California to work at massage parlors in the Wichita area and then offer sex acts to clients.

Law enforcement hopes the public gets involved and reports any suspicious activity.

“If you see something, make a call,” Bennett said. “Cops can’t do their job if they’re unaware that the crime is taking place.”

Earlier this year, Kansas toughened its human trafficking laws, strengthening penalties, making commercial sexual exploitation of a minor a crime and creating a victims’ assistance fund to try to give the exploited a shot at getting their lives back on track. The state was recently recognized by the victims’ advocacy group The Polaris Project as one of the toughest states on human trafficking.

“It does take a decoding process for many of our victims to understand that they are victims because of the grooming process involved and how long they have been involved in that lifestyle,” said Lt. Jeff Weible of the Exploited and Missing Child Unit at the Wichita Police Department.

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