AZ scores 'C' letter grade in fight against human trafficking - CBS 5 - KPHO

Arizona scores 'C' letter grade in fight against human trafficking

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Courtesy: FBI Courtesy: FBI
Arizona scores "C" for its efforts against trafficking Arizona scores "C" for its efforts against trafficking
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It's a problem everywhere and Arizona is no exception. At hotels, truck stops, even on your own street, human sex trafficking is bigger than you may think.

At StreetLightUSA, victims of the human smuggling operations have an outlet and a place to get away from the dark world of illegal prostitution. StreetLightUSA CEO Lea Benson says it gives these victims a new start.

"Most people don't realize that it's happening right here in their own backyards," Benson said.

In most cases, Benson says human trafficking targets young girls then sells them for sex.

A new report put together by Shared Hope International gave Arizona a "C" letter grade for its efforts to combat these crimes. [Click here to read the full report (PDF)]

Benson says the grade is disappointing but Arizona has the chance to be the standard for the rest of the country.

"We still have a long ways," Benson said. "We will never be satisfied with a solution because there's always room for improvement."

Gov. Jan Brewer established the Task Force on Human Trafficking in April and its members submitted recommendations to improve the state's standing in September.

Benson says one problem the state faces are what she calls "legal loopholes" that enable the criminals behind the sex trade to stay out of jail. She says one loophole provides lesser penalties if the victim is between 15 and 18 years old.

Another challenge the state faces is the scope of sex trafficking. Phoenix police Lt. Jim Gallagher says it's larger than you may think:

"It happens so often that a lot of times we can't keep up with the capacity of the bad guys to exploit victims," Gallagher said.

Police say their biggest challenge is tackling this type of organized crime which is often transient, moving from state to state.

Benson says for Arizona to lead the way for the rest of the country, the community and lawmakers need to work together.

"I think it is changing laws as well as rehab for these [victims]," Benson said.

On Friday, experts will discuss another step towards eliminating sex trafficking. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be in Phoenix joining Cindy McCain to gather feedback and find out what more America can do as a whole to stop this growing and dark trend of trafficking.

For more on this story and other stories around Arizona from this author, follow Shawn Kline on Facebook and Twitter.

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