1,000 children in Ohio believed to be ensnared in commercial sex industry

Sex slaves are trafficked along the nation’s highways.
TNS Regional News
Aug 26, 2013

 

A teenage girl with disabilities from Kentucky was forced into prostitution last year by a commercial truck driver.

Court and police records show truck driver Darien McKinley directed the teen to have sex with at least one unknown truck driver at a truck stop. The teen told police McKinley, 31, also made her solicit customers using his truck’s CB radio.

Sex slaves are trafficked along the nation’s highways, and sometimes they are bought and sold at truck stops, gas stations and rest areas, experts said. Dayton is at the intersection of two major highways, Interstates 70 and 75, that are traveled each day by thousands of truckers.

About 1,000 children in Ohio are believed to be ensnared in the commercial sex industry, and many rescued trafficking victims said they were transported across state lines.

The Dayton Daily News obtained police investigative documents and court records showing how law enforcement in Ohio rescued the teenage girl from McKinley, whom the girl claimed was forcing her into prostitution.

Members of the trucking industry, however, are fighting back against sex trafficking by training drivers and others how to recognize the signs of the activity and know when to contact law enforcement or national anti-trafficking organizations.

The ‘invisible crime’

Thousands of truckers in the state have been trained to be “extra sets of eyes and ears” to assist police identify victims and captors.

But sex trafficking often is referred to as the “invisible crime,” because signs of imprisonment go either unnoticed or ignored.

The 17-year-old girl from Louisville, Ky., evidently did not attract much attention when she wandered through a truck stop in Georgetown, Ky., looking for customers for prostitution. Police in Highland Park, Mich., saw the girl with McKinley days before she was rescued, but they said it was hard to tell what was going on.

“The lack of understanding of what goes into this crime and this victimization sometimes makes it easier to overlook,” said Staca Shehan, director of the case analysis division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

On June 9, 2012, the caretaker of a rest area along the southbound side of Interstate 75 in Wood County called Ohio State Highway Police and told them he was with a possible kidnapping victim. The girl had been reported missing by her mother and had not been seen in days.

Troopers interviewed the girl and learned she was taken from Louisville to Detroit by McKinley, nicknamed “Pork Chop,” according to court records.. Authorities would later learn the girl was slightly disabled, making it difficult to understand her.

OHP investigators learned McKinley was traveling southbound on I-75 in his truck with a second girl, 16, who also was from Louisville.

Troopers located McKinley’s truck and pulled him over just north of Sidney. McKinley, who worked for Kentucky freight company CoreTrans, was transported to the Piqua patrol post for questioning.

In interviews with law enforcement, McKinley said he met the 16-year-old girl at a motorcycle club party in Louisville, and he believed she was 23-years-old based on her looks and “ability to dance in an erotic fashion,” a police report said. The disabled girl told McKinley said was 19.

McKinley said he let the two girls ride with him as he took a shipment north to Michigan, because they wanted to go out of state to party, according to a written summary of the interview.

McKinley said he took the girls to a friend’s home in Detroit, and later they went to a motorcycle club. He denied having a sexual relationship with either girl and claimed he was not a pimp.

But the 17-year-old girl said McKinley’s version of events was a lie.

She said she only traveled with McKinley because she thought they were headed to Miami, and she did not want her friend to ride alone.

Felt ‘ashamed’ and ‘dirty’

The girl said when McKinley stopped in Georgetown, Ky., to repair a flat tire, he directed her and her friend to get on the CB radio and attempt to solicit other truck drivers for prostitution.

One trucker expressed interest, and McKinley gave the disabled girl a condom and told her to walk around a truck stop to find the man. The girl could not find him, but another trucker approached her and offered $50 for sex.

She was paid $49 after having sex with the trucker. The girl later told police she felt “ashamed” and “dirty” and only engaged in prostitution because she feared for her safety. McKinley pocketed the money she was paid.

McKinley took the girls to Detroit and they visited a motorcycle club, where the girls were instructed to try to attract customers for sex, police records show.

After a few days, McKinley decided to return to Kentucky, and the 17-year-old girl managed to get away from him at a rest area in Wood County.

McKinley was charged with kidnapping with a sexual motivation, and it looked as though his case would head to trial in April.

But McKinley changed his plea in April and he was convicted of abduction, a third-degree felony. McKinley entered an Alford plea, which means he did not admit guilt but believes the evidence in the case would likely result in a conviction. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

McKinley’s decided to stop his case from going to trial came after three inmates, with whom he was incarcerated, provided information and testimony to authorities in exchange for leniency in their cases.

One inmate said McKinley knew the girls were 16 and 17, and the trip to Detroit was for prostitution and drugs. McKinley reportedly bragged about making about $2,000 to $3,000 per girl when he put them into the sex trade.

“(He) said yeah, people pay good for young healthy girls,” the inmate wrote in a letter to prosecutors.

Teens found in malls, on Internet

The inmate also told prosecutors McKinley indicated he was trying to get someone to silence the victim. The inmate said he guessed McKinley had been involved in prostitution activities for about a year.

A second inmate told prosecutors that McKinley said he took the girls to Detroit to drop them off at a friend’s house to place them into the commercial sex industry.

McKinley reportedly bragged about making $1,000 per girl when he sold them, but he became upset after his friend in Michigan did not want the girls. The inmate told authorities McKinley approached another inmate about “taking care” of the victim, because “no victim, no witness, no case,” according to police records.

A third inmate told prosecutors that McKinley bragged about previously dropping off two other young girls in Detroit, one from Georgia and another from Florida. McKinley allegedly said he was paid more money if the girls are exotic or younger.

McKinley looked for girls at malls, truck stops and the Internet, and he allegedly learned the “ropes” of the sex trade from a truck training instructor, the inmate said.

Truck stops and rest areas appeal to sex traffickers because they have transient populations and people are coming and going at all times of day, said Shehan, with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“The crime is mobile, and truck stops are one of many venues where it has been confirmed that this is taking place,” she said.

Earlier this year, local, state and federal law enforcement officials rescued 105 children and arrested 152 pimps who were involved in commercial sex trafficking, including two pimps near southwest Ohio. The police operation, called Operation Cross Country, targeted truck stops, casinos, street “tracks” and Internet websites.

But it is becoming harder for sex-traffickers to buy and sell people along the nation’s highways, because the trucking industry has pledged to help crack down on the activity, Shehan said.

In May 2012, the OHP teamed up with the Ohio Trucking Association to launch a program called Truck Shield, which provides truck drivers with training about how to identify possible criminal behavior.

The patrol has conducted 63 Truck Shield details and about 3,350 drivers have undergone training, said patrol Lt. Anne Ralston.

The caretaker at the rest area in Wood County apparently received training about identifying sex trafficking shortly before he encountered the young victim, said Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson.

“She was fortunate that she was able to get away and got to a person who was trained and knew what to do,” he said. “They were able to apprehend (McKinley) very quickly, and we could move forward on the case.”

More than 3.1 million U.S. truck drivers travel more than 408 billion miles each year, and this large group can be a valuable asset to law enforcement, said Dan England, chairman of the American Trucking Associations.

“These professionals are the eyes and ears of the nation’s highways, and with knowledge and guidance, they can make a big difference and save lives,” England said last fall.

Truckers are being taught to be on the lookout for minors in truck stops and rest areas and also signs of pimp control, said Kendis Paris, executive director of the Colorado-based Truckers Against Trafficking.

“We are all about helping them understand what they are looking at and knowing who to call,” she said. “If you’ve got minors or anybody hanging out at rest stops for prolonged periods of time, or you’ve specifically got people asking for meet-ups using CB radios — those are absolutely red flags.”

How to help

Engaging in brief conversations with people at truck stops whose presence seems strange can help determine if they are free to leave, being watched or lack a legitimate reason to be there, Paris said.

“I seriously doubt they get asked questions on a regular basis such as, ‘Are you free to leave? Are you being watched?’” she said. “Those kinds of questions can completely take them off guard, and they (may) start to become nervous and start to look over their shoulder.”

Learning to recognize the signs of enslavement takes understanding the emotionally and psychologically manipulative nature of the crime, said Elizabeth Ranade-Janis, Ohio’s anti-trafficking coordinator.

People hear “sexual slavery” and often they think of chains and bondage and handcuffs. But those restraints are rare.

More often, sex-traffickers control their victims through fear, intimidation, violence, but also through kindness and the promise of a better life, Ranade-Janis said.

They use a mix of kindness and cruelty to gain power over their victims.

They use lies and deceit to mask the truth of their actions, which is sexual exploitation for their benefit.

Victims remain enslaved because sometimes they are attached to their traffickers while other times they believe law enforcement cannot or will not help them. Some victims are afraid that police will charge with them prostitution and other crimes they committed while being trafficked.

But those attitudes are changing, because new laws are designed to shield victims from prosecution and allow victims to have their criminal records associated with their servitude expunged, Ranade-Janis said.

The public and truckers do not need definitive evidence that a crime is taking place to contact police or anti-trafficking hotlines, official said. Some of the most useful tips that lead to rescues and prosecutions are vague.

But the violent and manipulative nature of the crime can make it very hard to spot in public. Victims may lie to protect their captors, who exert physical and psychological control over them. Victims may be ashamed of their situations or afraid authorities will prosecute instead of help them.

Police officers in Michigan ticketed McKinley’s truck for parking violations, and police saw the young girls with him. But neither girl signaled the officers. Officers said while they found circumstances odd, it was unclear what was happening.

The national trafficking hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.

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By Cornelius Frolik - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)

©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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