Human trafficking a 'terrible nightmare' for Yakima Valley families

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Young girls sold into prostitution here in the Yakima Valley; falling prey to gangs where they're sometimes traded for drugs and guns.

It's a form of human trafficking authorities say happens more often than you think.

KIMA got a chance to sit down with two mothers whose young daughters got sucked into a life of crime and prostitution.

Maria Mojica's hasn't seen her daughter in a year.

She frequently ran away from home, but a year ago she didn't come back.

Maria recalls once picking her daughter up from the police station.

"She had a lot of makeup on, her hair, she had miniskirts," said Mojica. "Stuff that she wouldn't wear in my apartment. I would never let my daughter look like that."

She soon discovered her daughter was living a double life.

Her daughter was sucked into a life of crime, drugs and prostitution against her will.

It's a form of human trafficking; underage girls and even boys, exploited for drugs and money.

Sunnyside's Promise received a $200,000 grant to explore the issue here in the valley, educate the public and help victims.

Staff tell me they encountered young girls traded for drugs and weapons who were forced to have sex with older men.

"Every time somebody knocks on my apartment, I'm just afraid that the police would knock on my apartment and tell me that she's dead," said Mojica.

Sunnyside's Promise says defining and understanding the danger is a challenge.

Young victims are often manipulated into believing they have no other options and don't get help out of fear of retaliation.

KIMA spoke with another mother who didn't want to be identified by her real name.

"Rosie," as we'll call her, says two of her daughters were forced into prostitution.

She noticed something was wrong when her daughter began acting strangely.

"At first we thought they were being rebellious, we were thinking it was their age. But, then we found out they were suffering depression," said Rosie.

When Rosie attempted to step in, she began receiving calls from men who threatened her family.

"It's like a terrible nightmare," she added.

One of her daughters is now getting help in Seattle through Sunnyside's Promise and an FBI program.

The other is in a juvenile detention center in Yakima.

Counselors say it's a problem when young victims are treated like criminals when they really need help.

Both mothers we spoke with say dealing with human trafficking has put a lot of pressure on their families.

Local organizations are working to provide more services to victims that will hopefully get them out of this life their often forced into.
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