By Diana Whittle
The secret is out and the ugly truth
is unfortunately confirmed–there
is human trafficking in Arizona.
The FBI office recently completed
Operation Cross Country, a program
to locate sex-traffic victims throughout
Nationally, 168 kids were
recovered in the sting; five children
and 42 adults were recovered in
Arizona–all were being victimized
through prostitution. The youths, who
identified themselves as being from
Chandler, Phoenix, Yuma, Tucson, and
Mesa, were rescued by the Phoenix FBI
office during the last week of June.
The reality that young girls
from the Valley are becoming
victims to adult predators initially
came as shocking news to Chandler
Councilmember Jeff Weninger until his
wife, Janet, educated him on the topic.
“My wife is actively involved in
this cause, and she actually brought it
to my attention,” said Weninger.
“So, I started checking with the
Chandler Police Department to find out
if it was an issue here, and to find out
if they were aware of how to identify
Of particular concern to Weninger
is the involvement and abuse of
He says that the problem is bigger
than most of the public realize and that
children who are the most vulnerable
are neglected kids who may live in
group homes, in foster care or be in
The predators, or pimps, target
this type of child because they can use
their weaknesses to trap them and to
keep them dependent.
“The average age is 14 for victims
being brought into this underground
sub-culture,” said Weninger.
“Although more victims are
being rescued today than just a year
ago, there are still very low odds of
recovering victims once they are taken.
For the victims who are rescued, the
most crucial thing we can do is to put
them in a safe place where they are no
longer in danger of their pimp finding
Weninger says that more shelters
are needed in the East Valley for the
those aged 18 to 24 because these are
young adults, too old for foster care but
still in danger of becoming homeless or
living in an insecure environment.
Once he became more educated
on the topic, Weninger said, he
interviewed Maricopa County Attorney
Bill Montgomery during his edition
of the “Chandler In Focus” program,
which is seen on government access
Channel 11 in Chandler homes.
Montgomery served on Gov.
Jan Brewer’s Task Force on Human
Trafficking that was formed in April
The end result of the committee’s
work was House Bill 2454, which was
signed into state law and increases
penalties to predators for offenses
involving underage girls.
In Chandler, besides Weninger,
Councilmember Nora Ellen also
actively supports organizations that are
focused on child abuse and educating
the public on sex trafficking.
Weninger is anxious to let the
public know about this social problem
because he believes that being aware is
critical to slowing down its growth in
“There are trainings available
for citizens, first responders and
for the teen population,” said
Weninger,“because they are the ones
who must be informed if we want to
ensure they don’t end up as victims.”
“My wife is part of a statewide
effort that includes Mesa Community
College, Starbright Foundation,
Childhelp and a few others who are
focused on training our state’s youth to
“My wife received a grant from
the Arizona Summit on Volunteerism
and Service Learning for a project that
teens age 13-18 can participate in by
creating a short video on the issue that
is meant to help their peers become
aware of the issue.
For more information on the
project visit the website:www.