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Jul 7, 2011 5:39 AM

Sex trafficking in Tucson

TUCSON - We don't usually hear about it, but don't let that fool you. Child sex trafficking is a major problem, and it's right here in Tucson.
On Wednesday night, the heads of the new Southern Arizona Human Trafficking Task Force got the word out. They met to discuss better ways of training law enforcement and prosecutors on the issue. One victim of childhood sex trafficking was also there to share her story of how she survived, and in her first interview without her face being blurred, she sat down with News 4 Tucson's Danielle Todesco.

"I was prostituted and worked in massage parlors and different things under the control of a pimp," said trafficking victim, Amira Birger. At the age of 17, she was sold by a friend to a pimp, who took over her life for the next seven months. All the while, she was just eight miles from her home.

"I wasn't able to eat or speak, I couldn't take a shower. There was this control over me," she said it is mind control that traps these young girls. She said she never thought to run or seek help. She got out when her pimp released her, after catching wind of a criminal investigation.

That man is still on the loose, an unsettling thought for Birger, "Fearful all the time, because I don't ever know when that's going to come back to haunt me."

Yet she still stands up and tells her story to keep other girls from going through the same thing. She says every time she tells it, it heals her just a little bit more. "Every girl in America is at risk of being sexually abused because of the lack of awareness," she said.

Jerry Peyton is helping to raise that awareness. He started the Southern Arizona Sex Trafficking Task Force and hopes to stop the problem. The main goal, to help the girls in the system rebuild their lives. "I can't imagine something more degrading and violating than to be used 10 to 15 times a day by men you don't know," he said.

Peyton says awareness needs to being with parents and teachers, but especially the kids, "The girls were ignorant," he said, "they didn't even know when guys were targeting them either through the internet, on Facebook, at the mall."

Eight years later, Amira is now a full time student, wife, and mother to four kids. Jerry Peyton hopes to open a home for the girls who are rescued from this within the next year.

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