The mysterious disappearance of 18-year-old Hannah Graham on September 13, 2014, has become easy fodder for the media at a time when the news cycle is lagging. After all, how does a young woman just vanish without a trace, in the middle of the night, in a town that is routinely lauded for being the happiest place in America, not to mention one of the most beautiful?
Yet Graham is not the first girl to vanish in America without a trace–my hometown of Charlottesville, Va., has had five women go missing over the span of five years–and it is doubtful she will be the last. I say doubtful because America is in the grip of a highly profitable, highly organized and highly sophisticated sex trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.
It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged sex workers in the U.S. The average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, with some as young as 9 years old. This doesn’t include those who entered the “trade” as minors and have since come of age. Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. As one rescue organization estimated, an underaged prostitute might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.
This is America’s dirty little secret.
You don’t hear much about domestic sex trafficking from the media or government officials, and yet it infects suburbs, cities and towns across the nation. According to the FBI, sex trafficking is the fastest growing business in organized crime, the second most-lucrative commodity traded illegally after drugs and guns. It’s an industry that revolves around cheap sex on the fly, with young girls and women who are sold to 50 men each day for $25 apiece, while their handlers make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year.
In order to avoid detection by police and cater to male buyers’ demand for sex with different women, pimps and the gangs and crime syndicates they work for have turned sex trafficking into a highly mobile enterprise, with trafficked girls, boys and women constantly being moved from city to city, state to state, and country to country. The Baltimore-Washington area, referred to as The Circuit, with its I-95 corridor dotted with rest stops, bus stations and truck stops, is a hub for the sex trade.