AS Virginia continues to grapple with the aftereffects of the brutal enslavement of African–Americans more than 150 years ago, a newer form of slavery has emerged. The underground trafficking of women, and especially children, for sex is every bit as evil and dehumanizing, but it’s happening right now in the Fredericksburg region.

As The Free Lance–Star’s Cathy Dyson reported in her recent three-part series, “Modern-Day Slavery,” many victims come from neglectful or abusive situations, but even kids from good homes can be at risk.

Vulnerable young girls between the ages of 12 and 14 are the prime targets for manipulation and eventual sexual exploitation, although young boys are also trafficked.

Some trafficking victims are graduates of local school systems who were slowly lured into the dark world of commercial sex, groomed by flattery, gifts or promises of a modeling contract—only to find themselves caught in a recurring nightmare of forced sex, gang rapes, beatings and drugs to keep them under control.

What kind of monster orders up a child for sex as casually as a pizza? The Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative says the typical “buyer” is a married suburban male in his 40s with children of his own and disposable income.

These predators mostly find their young victims online, where traffickers post “ads” as they would for livestock, and conduct their nefarious transactions in hotels and motels near major transportation corridors to make for easy getaways.

According to the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, “traffickers and buyers of children for sex encompass all racial, socio-economic and cultural groups. Child sex trafficking has devastating consequences for its minor victims, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease, and/or even death.”

The average lifespan of a trafficked child is seven years after being sexually enslaved. Most die from homicide, HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, an overdose or suicide.

So a child who is forced into sexual slavery at 15 will likely be dead by the time she’s 22.

Nobody—much less a minor— could ever consent to such abuse. Men who are paying to have sex with these vulnerable children are as guilty as the scurrilous lowlifes who procure them. They both deserve long prison sentences for their unspeakable crimes.

According to the Central Virginia Justice Initiative, which was founded in 2013 in Spotsylvania by Michele Trampe, wife of county Supervisor Paul Trampe, Virginia had the 14th highest number of sex trafficking cases involving minors in the U.S. last year. One of the group’s goals is to make local residents aware that this form of modern-day slavery is happening right in their own local communities.

Globally, sex trafficking is a $150 billion criminal enterprise. Nationwide, experts estimate that about 10,000 children between the ages of 13 and 17 are trafficked in the U.S., forced to have sex with strangers more than five times daily on average, but their captors and rapists are seldom arrested or charged.

The huge amount of money taken in by these despicable flesh peddlers, coupled with the relatively low odds of them or their “customers” getting caught and punished for their crimes, allows child sex slavery to flourish in our midst.

NCMEC publishes an online list ( of “red flags”—physical and behavioral signs that can help parents, educators, law enforcement, medical personnel and community members identify children who are being sexually exploited.

They include: displaying a large amount of cash, multiple cellphones, or hotel keys; a history of running away from home; unexplained or gang tattoos; signs of physical abuse; multiple sexually transmitted diseases; and the hovering presence of an older, controlling person in a teenager’s life.

As in the case of other suspected criminal activity, “if you see something, say something.”

It will take the efforts of the entire community—not just law enforcement—to rid our region and our society of the sickening scourge of modern-day child sexual servitude.

But we must not rest until we do.