$100 Million Industry in D.C.: Child Sex Trafficking

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA9) — As the days pass with no sign of Relisha, some who are following her case believe she may have been sold into a child sex trafficking operation.

They point to the wads of cash and expensive items Relisha’s mother and boyfriend flaunted on Facebook in the days following the little girl’s disappearance.

WUSA9’s Andrea McCarren interviewed some experts to learn why investigators have not ruled out that possibility.

“If they’re vulnerable, then they’re at risk,” said Andrea Powell, Executive Director of FAIR Girls.

Relisha Rudd may be just eight years old, but that is not too young for the world of sex trafficking.

Said Powell says, “There’s kids as young as 5, 6, 7.”

The average age of entry into this dark and devastating underworld is 13.

“A child who’s a victim of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation cannot go to school, is most likely not able to speak unless they’re asked to speak, they can’t even go to the bathroom without getting permission,” she said. “They’re probably having sex with 5 to 10 men a night.”

And it is happening here in the nation’s capital, where wealth and power are next-door neighbors to poverty and despair.

“A trip to McDonald’s can mean the world to a child like Relisha,” said Powell.

Like many child trafficking victims, she says Relisha was vulnerable. Kahlil Tatum, a skilled child predator.

“He really seemed to know what he was doing and how to lure a child. Buying gifts, making friends, even the trick of using another child to make Relisha feel safe and comfortable, very common tactic,” she said.

“We gotta keep looking because that child could still be alive out there,” said Bob Lowery, Jr. of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is assisting in the ongoing search for the little girl with the sweet smile and a lifetime ahead of her.

He said, “There’s been such intense pressure to find this child, you would think if someone had this child, they would be willing to return her. That has not yet happened, so we’re hoping it may still.”

He says child sex trafficking is a larger problem than many imagine, because it is no longer in the open. It is moved from the street corner, in many cases, to the Internet.

“We don’t know. The possibility of child sex trafficking is a possibility, but I think it’s just one of the many possibilities that could be out there,” said Lowery.

Considering the grisly alternatives, it may be the best option.

“I hope that sex trafficking is what’s going on because that would mean that she has value to someone and they maybe wouldn’t kill her,” he said.

Unfortunately, the man who could unlock this mystery took his secrets to the grave.

In Washington, D.C. alone, the trafficking of children is a $100-million industry. Nationwide, 300,000 children are forced into prostitution and child pornography every year.

If you or someone you know is a victim of trafficking, you can get help by contacting the National Human Trafficking hotline. The number to call is 1-888-3737-888.

PHOTOS:Missing AMBER ALERT Relisha Rudd
An AMBER ALERT is out for missing 8-year-old Relisha Rudd. Rudd was last seen in the 1900 block of Massachusetts Avenue, SE. Police describe the little girl as a black female, 4′ 0″ tall, weighing approximately 70 to 80 pounds. She has black hair, brown eyes and a medium complexion. Homeless Children’s Playtime Project

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