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Federal Agents Crack Down on Child Exploitation

Buffalo, NY|Sex-Trafficking Minors|Add Comment

By: Rachel Elzufon, wkbw.com

Prostitution rings and massage parlors are problems that are not new to Western New York.

However, few realize many of the victims are local children. Now one agency is trying to crack down on child exploitation.

Experts say they cannot even guess how many victims of human trafficking are children from the region.

An anonymous girl, trafficked as a teenager, writes an emotional poem -- ""Your pleasure, My pain. No it's not a game. Nothing can face me. No one knows my name."

The poem continues "Where did she go? What did she do? Wondering when it's over. Looking over your shoulder in the dead of the night, ready for the fight. Wondering what would come."

She's one of about 300 trafficking survivors found in this region in the last five years.

Boys and girls, being exploited for sex and cheap labor, often in rural communities and the suburbs -- they could be anywhere.

Amy Fleischauer, with the International Institute of Buffalo, explains "There are various industries -- the restaurant business, hotels and motels, we see them in agricultural cases that's certainly a significant industry where we see human trafficking. The construction business."

Victims include children who come with their families from other countries, local boys and girls recruited online and those pimped out by someone they trust.

It's a problem authorities are just starting to uncover.

The Assistant Special Agent in Charge of FBI - Buffalo, Steven Lanser, explains "The Violent Crimes Against Children Squad was set-up to decrease the vulnerability of children in violent crimes -- sexual exploitation, and kidnappings."

The FBI now has a new group of agents here in Buffalo, only focusing on the exploitation of children.

The squad's Supervisory Special Agent, Jason Jaragin, says "The FBI and the Western New York Region has seen instances where children were exploited for sexual gain -- monetary gain -- in an enterprise type operation."

The squad of ten special agents started in early October. A lot of the fight takes place online.

Lanser explains "Usually they don't know and usually they don't even know who the actual person is, because they have a profile of someone else."

Pimps find their victims on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking websites -- often selling the boys and girls on backpage.com.

That's how the FBI says one Amherst man trafficked minors.

A criminal complaint accuses Kenneth Graham of kidnapping, assaulting and selling out a girl for a week, before he pimped out a second teen.

Predators have even infiltrated school systems in Western New York.

Timothy Bek, a teacher in West Seneca, set-up a fake Facebook account pretending to be a teenage girl. Bek convinced boys that he taught to send him explicit pictures and videos, so that Bek could share them with his friends.

The FBI accused another man in Rochester of teaming up with a teenage girl to turn her high school classmates into prostitutes.

The latest trend for predators -- finding victims through gaming.

Jaragin says "We have all these gaming sites where there's all these interactions, all this role play. Children can be easily enticed."

Advocates hope the new FBI squad will help crack down on child exploitation. Fleischauer says "we're not identifying it in the way that we should. Having this unit will increase training and identification."

Drugs drive one third of the child trafficking and exploitation in Western New York.

Authorities and advocates are always looking for any tips.

Signs include large groups of people hanging out in unusual areas during odd hours. Victims are rarely seen without their captors and afraid to talk to the public.

If you see anything suspicious you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the local FBI office at 716-856-7800.

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