Most people believe that slavery in America was a shameful enterprise that only exists in history books. You may be shocked to learn that the slave trade has made a comeback and is currently a thriving industry in the Land of the Free.

Too many to help

In a research project, Shared Hope International found that under-age sex trafficking is a demand-driven enterprise and the product for sale is most commonly local children, up to 300,000 by some estimates. In a country that prides itself on personal freedom and was founded on Judeo-Christian values, this is a staggering moral outrage.

Frequently, girls from abusive homes are targeted and recruited at places as benign as the mall or while sipping a latte in front of their favorite coffee shop. They are lured with kindness and empty promises, then beaten, threatened and abused into submission. The damage is far beyond any visible bruises and scars.

In recent years there have been many laws created to help prosecute and punish convicted offenders, but what is being done to help the victims?

Sadly, there is a breakdown in the system. Frequently, young victims are "caught" or picked up for minor violations such as drug or alcohol use or identified as habitual runaways and processed as juvenile delinquents. They are taught to lie to authorities and are conditioned to fear them more than their pimps.

Often, children serve time in detention centers, but even when they are sent to a rehab facility the "trauma bonding" that occurs between the victim and her captor sometimes lures these little girls to run away, right back into the arms of evil.

Too few solutions

Law enforcement officers would benefit from more training to prevent misidentifying these young victims as criminals. But even if they were better equipped, there are slim options for treatment and safe haven. According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are accommodations for fewer than 50 girls nationwide. The math is simple but makes a devastating equation.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act provides important funding to help care for foreign victims of sex trafficking. But anti-trafficking advocates say no money has been used to help American girls.

"Not one cent of that money has been put towards domestic victims," said Malika Saada Saar of the Rebecca Project, a Washington-based human rights organization. "There has not been the political will to include domestic trafficking victims."

Awakening caring society

Americans care about injustice and child abuse. Because few people are aware of this horror, little has been done. But that is slowly changing. Incredible organizations are emerging to catapult awareness and aid victims. Among them, Streetlight in Phoenix, Salvation Army, Faith. Alliance against Slavery and Trafficking, and the Polaris Project.

The Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act, passed both houses of Congress last year and would have provided $45 million over four years. Sadly, the bill never made it to the president's desk, and now that there's a new Congress, it will have to start from scratch.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Markins can be reached at Visit her blog

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