Sex Trafficking in America: FRONTLINE takes us into the fight with Phoenix task force

One of the rescued trafficked women in FRONTLINE's documentary. Pic credit: PBS/FRONTLINE
One of the rescued trafficked women in FRONTLINE’s documentary. Pic credit: PBS/FRONTLINE

The upcoming episode of FRONTLINE’s Sex Trafficking in America tells the modern-day horror stories of young women coerced into prostitution – and follows one special police task force that’s committed to rooting it out.

This eye-opening documentary airs on PBS (and can be streamed online) and it examines an enormous problem within the United States, the sex trafficking of vulnerable people and especially women and children.

It is vital to understand how to protect your loved ones in these times of unprecedented access via social media – a common tool for predators who find, groom and plan their crimes. A child’s smartphone or computer is a portal to hell on Earth for those who are unsupervised.

FRONTLINE’s Sex Trafficking in America is a collection of true stories of young American women coerced into prostitution and is an insider’s view of one police unit that is committed to catching the bad actors and safeguarding communities and people.

Who is featured?

FRONTLINE offers intimate access to local law enforcement, prosecutors, service providers and the women themselves. The series shines a light on the hidden reality of sex trafficking in America.

Producers Jezza Neumann and Lauren Mucciolo work with the Phoenix police unit that is tackling child sexual exploitation. They speak with women who have escaped what they reveal is a crime that is both hidden in plain sight and potentially growing, due in part to social media, where traffickers often start to groom and recruit young women and girls.

“Most people do not understand the volume of trafficking that’s going on in America, in our own backyard,” Detective Christi Decouflé of the Phoenix Police Department tells FRONTLINE. “Instead of us realizing that it’s an epidemic out there, it’s America’s dirty little secret.”

In the film, the producers give us an inside look at the lucrative industry as we are front row with the undercover, high-stakes police operations. They also interview the young women who have escaped the trade.

“Slavery sounds like a ‘back in the day’ thing, but … that’s kind of what it was,” Marriah, a young woman who was trafficked and sexually exploited for nearly four years, tells FRONTLINE. “Emotionally and mentally, they have you in handcuffs.”

“When I began investigating sex trafficking in America, I had no idea how many victims were American themselves,” says Neumann. “When I learned the scope of the problem across the nation, that’s when I knew this was an issue that demanded national attention.”

“Society doesn’t want to have to recognize what’s happening to them. And it’s up to us to make sure that they do recognize it,” says Detective Melissa Borquez of the Phoenix Police Department. “No matter who they are, they deserve to have somebody fight for them, whether they want to be fought for or not.”

Why is sex trafficking growing in America?

Hiding in plain sight, these predators use common items of modern life like computers and social media to connect and groom unwitting victims.

These criminals are captured in intricate stings as the Phoenix police unit targets both the traffickers luring young women into prostitution and the “buyers” who fuel this illegal activity with their money.

“Without customers, there’s no girls out there,” Detective Amber Campbell of the Phoenix Police Department tells FRONTLINE. “People want to think that human trafficking only exists in foreign countries… there’s just a complete lack of education about the topic in our society.”

FRONTLINE airs Tuesday, May 28 on PBS- check local listings for time.

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