NORMAN — It’s a dirty — actually tragic — little secret. The U.S. State Department lists the United States as the No. 1 destination for human trafficking, especially of children and young teens. California, New York, Texas and Oklahoma are at the top of the list of states most active.
That sordid fact came home a year ago when the remains of 19-year-old Carina Saunders were found in a duffel bag discarded behind a grocery store in Bethany. Two men were charged — one a Mexican national and the other an Oklahoman who told police the young woman was killed to send a message to other kidnapped prostitutes controlled by a trafficking ring.
Last week, a legislative panel heard harrowing tales about human trafficking and how close to home it really is. A Sand Springs woman, now 41, went from being a straight-A cheerleader from a middle-class family to the victim of child trafficking in the 1980s.
What the legislative panel does with the information it received will become apparent next session. While there are laws against human trafficking what’s needed is tougher enforcement and the police power to investigate trafficking rings.
Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, who requested the study, said the woman’s story contained a powerful message about the reality of human trafficking. “What the general public often doesn’t realize is that now the average age of recruitment is between 12 and 14,” she said.
A law passed by the legislature recently created a new, seven-agent unit within the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs dedicated to investigating human trafficking. Darrell Weaver, the agency’s executive director, said, “Someone told me years ago that human trafficking could be larger than drug trafficking. I didn’t want to believe them, but the more we look at this, it’s surely more troubling because of the victims.”