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Phoenix agency helping victims, educating public on sex trafficking

PHOENIX -- Over 200 girls are expected to be forced into sex trafficking this year, according to StreetLightUSA, a Phoenix organization that aims to put an end to child rape.

"In 2012 we served 41 girls. In 2013 we served 131," StreetLightUSA Public Awareness Manager Norma Salas said. "In 2014 we are estimating that we will serve 260."

StreetLightUSA helps victims who have been forced into sex trafficking readjust to normal life.

"Our mission is to transition adolescents from trauma to triumph," Salas said. "We provide a variety of programs so that girls can build better futures and become strong, independent women."

Among the programs offered are art, music, writing, coping skills development, therapy and other activities to help overcome trauma.

Aside from helping girls after they have experienced the world of sex trafficking, StreetLightUSA educates law enforcement and community organizations on how to handle sex trafficking.

"We regularly train first responders, probation offices, COPS caseworkers and court personnel on recognizing the signs of trafficking," Salas said, adding the organization also offers training to members of the public, church groups, civic clubs and university organizations.

In an attempt to stop the spread of sex trafficking, Phoenix Police have also begun holding seminars in schools and other community settings so that citizens will know how to identify the crime, according to Police Sgt. Chris Bray.

"There is education going out to a broader group of people," Bray said. "They might be able to recognize or report on it unlike before."

The seminars are generally briefings on what sex trafficking around the nation looks like, ranging from traditional methods to the use of certain websites such as Arizona-owned Backpage.com, which markets both prostitutes and victims.

"It manifest itself in so many ways," he said. Because of its various propagation, Bray believes that "you really can't say this area or that area," when it comes to narrowing down sex trafficking concentration to one part of the city, he said.

Phoenix is high on the list of cities with instances of sex trafficking. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is hoping to get the Valley to drop off the list, documents showed.

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