Super Bowl 49 is February 1st in Glendale, Arizona. Along with the parties and activities that seem to follow this big sporting event, there is a concern about the potential increase in human trafficking. Lea Benson, president and CEO of StreetLightUSA talks about rehabilitating victims of child sex trafficking.
Jose Cardenas: Good evening, I'm Jose Cardenas. Learn about one group dedicated to rescuing children who are victims of human trafficking. Also, we'll talk about why American Indian stereotypes are tolerated in the sports world and modern society. Plus, an organization helping Valley kids get access to activities and sports programs for families who may not be able to afford them. Next on "Horizonte."
Video: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.
Jose Cardenas: Good evening, and thanks for joining us. Super Bowl XLIX is this Sunday in Glendale, and along with the parties and activities that seem to follow this sporting event, there's a growing concern about the potential increase in human trafficking in the host city. Child prostitution is a big issue here in the Valley and there's one group dedicated to getting girls off the street. They have been working around the clock to rescue them. Here to talk about this issue is Lea Benson, President and CEO of Streetlight USA. Lea, welcome to "Horizonte."
Lea Benson: Thank you.
Jose Cardenas: As we indicated in the introduction, this is a big issue all the time. But the focus right now is on Phoenix because of the Super Bowl. Why is that?
Lea Benson: Well, because any event brings about trafficking. And so the important thing to remember is that when the Super Bowl is gone, this issue has not gone away.
Jose Cardenas: And give us a sense for how big an issue this is and how serious it is.
Lea Benson: The Stats say there's anywhere from 100,000 for 300,000 domestic minor children trafficked each year. That is just domestic children.
Jose Cardenas: We were talking a little about it before we began the interview, I think you said something like every 48 hours?
Lea Benson: Within 48 hours of a child running away, one out of every three children will have been approached by a trafficker.
Jose Cardenas: And it's the runaways that are kind of the target population for the trafficker, isn't it?
Lea Benson: Actually they don't have any boundaries. We have children that have special needs that have been trafficked. We have children that are schizophrenic, that are bipolar. We have children that come from middle income families. There is no boundaries.
Jose Cardenas: But typically children in distress of some sort, that makes them more vulnerable to what they may hear from traffickers.
Lea Benson: Yes, and what teen is not vulnerable?
Jose Cardenas: Good point. Let's talk about your organization and its history. You were founded in 2007?
Lea Benson: We were founded in 2007. Our founders were churches, the faith community, law enforcement, and government coming together, because what they found was that they would find these children and there was nowhere specifically to put them. The care for these children is not the same. Our facility is wired with many technologies that allow us to be able to monitor the children on an ongoing basis.
Jose Cardenas: You talk about care, but that's actually an additional service that wasn't offered originally but came about in 2011?
Lea Benson: In 2010, December of 2010 our founders purchased this ability. Through that they felt it was very important to provide services to these children, a safe haven, a safety net for them to be able to begin their healing again.
Jose Cardenas: And how many beds are available?
Lea Benson: Throughout the country I've heard stats that there are more dog shelters than beds available for children.
Jose Cardenas: Right now here in Phoenix, which is the home of this organization, how many beds are available for these kids?
Lea Benson: At our facility currently we have 48 beds available and we're about to expand to 60. Then we are also building a therapeutic center on site.
Jose Cardenas: How is it that a young girl comes to be placed in your facility? Is it through initial contact with the justice system? Or do you find them on the streets or what?
Lea Benson: The justice system and law enforcement has definitely been a very close partner in this process. In that they have placed children at street lights, and these kids have come from all over the country. We have had placements from Alaska, Florida, Colorado, Texas, South Carolina, New York. These are just some of the states children have come from, to come to Streetlight USA. Our model is very unique and very holistic, and it is the first of its kind throughout the nation.
Jose Cardenas: What kinds of services do you offer, do you provide to these young women?
Lea Benson: Our program is a three-phase program. We start with stabilization. Then we go into growth and choices. And then we move into independence. And so when a child first comes to street light, one of the first things they have lost is trust in society. Before they can even begin to receive services, we have to begin that process of building trust and confidence. That we are there to really do the right thing for them, and to be there for them as they need us to be.
Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, the typical age is 13, but you've had girls much younger?
Lea Benson: We have had calls for as young as Eight years old. The typical age is thirteen. Girls can stay with us up to the age of 22 as long as their 18th birthday they are in school or working full time.
Jose Cardenas: And who pays for these services that you provide?
Lea Benson: Right now we have a contract with the Department of Child Safety, which pays for about 40% of our funding. The difference is truly the community, coming out, providing services projects, service projects, and providing donated items that the girls need.
Jose Cardenas: When we were talking before we went on air, you gave some examples of some of the people that you've helped and some of their life stories. Some pretty harrowing stories about some of these women.
Lea Benson: Yes. When you think you've heard the last story, you haven't. We've served since 2011 over 500 children so far. These children are children at risk of being trafficked or they have been trafficked. An example of a child that is at risk in profile, for example, is we have one that her dad was a pimp and her mom was a prostitute. So she was very highly at risk of going into the life. A wonderful child, she was an honor student in school and was very determined never to get into that life. But in addition to that, she is a teen and she needed help. And so we were there to serve as a safety net, providing her with mentors, resources that she really needed, so that she can stay on that path to success.
Jose Cardenas: And when you intervene with these young women, you're not just providing them services and steering them a different way in life. You gave me a very troubling statistic that shows you actually are saving lives.
Lea Benson: Yes, we are. We are truly saving lives. These are kids considered throw-aways. When you think about the successes that we've had and the trauma these children have gone through, a lot of people expect these children to walk out of streetlight and that they would be okay, and that everything would be back to normal. How can you take a child that has been raped, 10, 20, 45 times in a day, and say that they are going to be normal? A child received that type of trauma and then they were taken away from home, which is another trauma. Then they were beat, which is another trauma. And then they were withheld food and shelter, which is another trauma. So the traumas that these children go through is a lifetime of healing. So what we provide them is a glimpse of what could be, and we help them develop coping skills so that they can begin to train themselves to understand that the life they live now is not the life that they were meant to live.
Jose Cardenas: And the life expectancy for a young woman who is trafficked?
Lea Benson: The life expectancy, according to the FBI, of a child that has gone into the life of trafficking is seven years.
Jose Cardenas: Lea Benson, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this. Good luck on attracting the kind of publicity you need to make sure people are aware.
Lea Benson: Thank you.
Jose Cardenas: Thank you.
Lea Benson:President and CEO, StreetLightUSA;