The “fastest-growing crime in America”. That’s how Opal Singleton describes the problem of sex trafficking in 2016, which she’s made it her life’s work to talk about, training others in law enforcement, schools, organizations and the general citizenry as she goes.
Singleton visited Parker, AZ last week and held several meetings with schools, law enforcement and the Colorado River Regional Crisis Shelter (pictured). She also stopped by to tell Parker Live how the crime is growing and how young people are at risk, male and female.
“We’ve trained over 50,000 people now,” Singleton said. “Mainly government agencies. I look at every sex trafficking case in the news, every child porn case. But I work for the Riverside County Anti- Human Trafficking Task Force, working with the Sheriff on a Department of Justice grant. So we see these cases happen right in our own jurisdiction.”
Gangs have taken over the sex trafficking market, according to Singleton, with trans-national gangs joining forces with local gangs. “An average pimp can be worth a million dollars,” she said, “because sex income has overtaken drug income.”
And the means of that income is a ready supply of young women, often high school age, who are recruited largely online, Singleton says.
“The average young person can be lured in by social media. There are several large cases using Facebook Messenger, but Kik is the biggest app where we’re losing kids. 80 percent of kids in one high school were on Kik, 80 percent of those received a message from a stranger, 50 percent replied out of 150 kids and 3 kids went out and met a stranger.”
As for why high school young people would do that, Singleton says grooming isn’t like parents think it is.
“They think a predator would be easily spotted, but by the time they ask to meet in person, they think they’re friends,” she said. “When you’ve texted somebody 50 times you think you know them.”
Often young women are flattered by someone posing as an admiring and friendly male online, and are extremely vulnerable to predators. Parents don’t know the risks and, even in an area like Parker, she says the door they’re opening is real.
“Boys are at risk too because they get lured into sending naked photos and are then extorted,” Singleton told Parker Live. “Girls are at risk of kidnapping. We had a case where a very pretty 14 year old girl went on Kik, fell in love with this predator and she met him at the San Bernardino Mall. It turned out he was a pimp with the Crips in Compton. He sold her in, and for 9 weeks her life was a living hell. She was tattooed, brainwashed, locked up, beaten, and sexually abused repeatedly on a daily basis. They had her working from 6am until midnight, working for the gang. And kids die this way.”
Singleton said she searched for the victim for 9 weeks and couldn’t find her. But she was eventually found, rescued and is now trying to “get her brains back” in a program of rehabilitation.
She said parents should have an active role in monitoring what their children are doing on the internet, with boys needing to be especially careful in video games (many of which come with chat rooms or voice chat built-in) and girls and boys both needing to be careful with Kik, Facebook Messenger and other social media platforms.
With the help of aware organizations like the Crisis Shelter and law enforcement agencies, Singleton hopes to curb the ability of sex traffickers to influence and exploit young people. For more information on her work, visit millionkids.org.