The same day that 34-year-old Ashburn man was convicted in federal court of having a years-long coerced sexual relationship with a teenage girl brought from El Salvador, those on the front line of Northern Virginia sex trafficking battle urged a crowd at a Lansdowne church to join the fight.
Eric Noe Araujo Flores, who also is known as Eric Araujo Orellano, faces 10 years to life in prison following his Feb. 19 conviction by a federal jury on charges of sex trafficking of a child, foreign travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and harboring an alien for an immoral purpose, and coercion and enticement
According to court records and evidence at trial, Araujo Flores contacted his former nanny in El Salvador in an effort to find a teenage Salvadoran girl. The nanny put Araujo Flores in touch with her 14-year-old niece, who informed Araujo Flores that a gang had threatened to harm her and her family and that she needed help. Araujo Flores promised to help the girl if she would have sex with him.
Beginning in July 2013, Araujo Flores made three trips to El Salvador to have sex with her. He paid cash for some of the sex acts and provided the victim and her family with jewelry, food, and clothing. He also paid to have them move residences, and paid her family’s rent.
In 2014, Araujo Flores paid to have the victim and her mother smuggled into the United States through Texas. He put them up in a house he owned in Sterling, allowing them to live there rent-free in exchange for sex with the victim, who was then 15 years old. Araujo Flores provided the victim with a counterfeit permanent resident card which included a false birthdate indicating she was older than 18. He also continued to provide her with food and jewelry.
The case was investigated by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Sex Crimes Unit.
The methods Araujo Flores used to control his victim are typical of those engaged in sex trafficking, according to victim advocates, but today’s problem goes far beyond smuggling women into the country for the sex trade. Increasingly, suburban teens also are being targeted by predators, according to Det. Bill Woolf, the Fairfax County Police officer assigned to the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force.
In fact, Woolf and Kay Duffield, executive director of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative, describe Northern Virginia as one of the top five hubs nationally for sex trafficking, which the FBI identifies as the second-fastest growing crime in the U.S.
During 2015, more than 50 Northern Virginia teens were identified as victims of sex trafficking and investigators identified 30 new trafficker suspects, taking 14 into custody.
Woolf and Duffield spoke to a crowd at the McLean Bible Church’s Lansdowne Campus Friday night to raise awareness of the issue and urge the community to get involved.
Throughout their presentations, speakers avoided the term prostitution, which Woolf said conveys a sense of consent.
“These individuals have no idea what is going on. The traffickers control them,” Woolf said. “These people feel very helpless. They feel trapped.”
In many cases the traffickers target teen girls—and boys— with low self-esteem, disjointed family lives and uninvolved parents. They pretend to offer love and then provide their victims with gifts, food, shelter and other items to maintain their trust and dependence while forcing them to engage in sexual acts. When victims resist, their abusers threaten to harm them or their family members, Woolf said.
The detective said that often family members are unaware their child is involved in the sex trade. Generally, they go to school and are home each night, he said. It’s in the hours between school and home where liaisons frequently occur.
Most shocking to many of those gathered at the church was Woolf’s description of the typical customers in the Northern Virginia’s sex trade. They are middle- to upper-class white men, 35-45 years old, who go to church on Sunday and home to their wife and kids each night. Only sometimes, they stop at a hotel on the way home to pay to have sex with a teen they arranged to meet through Craigslist or some other Internet site.
Drop the Denial
Duffield, whose organization helps sex trafficking victims in the region to recover, is a Loudoun resident. She said her county “seems to be in denial that it exists.”
She discussed the long road victims face from the trauma, as the learn to trust again.
“I am shocked at just how little these survivors have had kind words spoken their way,” Duffield said.
She worked with the victim in the Araujo Flores case and said few sex trafficking victims get the opportunity—or have the strength—to testify against their tormentors.
“Praise God justice was done,” Duffield said. “Pray for her. She had to get up on the stand and re-live it all again this week.”
Woolf and Duffield pointed to a number of ways residents can learn more about the issue. They agree that the best way to combat the problem is to change the culture by talking about it.
Woolf helps lead a public awareness website—justaskprevention.com—that includes information to help students, parents and the community at large better recognize those who may be involved in sex trafficking and better understand its impacts.
Woolf also developed an educational program, designed to fit with the school systems’ Family Life Education curricula. The information to help students recognize and resist being targeted by sex traffickers is presented starting in the sixth grade. Fairfax County has offered the classes for several years, but they are not offered to Loudoun students.
That’s something Woolf, Duffield and the crowd gathered at the church hope to change. By this week, School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) began receiving letters distributed at the meeting urging the adoption of the Teen Sex Trafficking curriculum and the development of a comprehensive plan to educate students and their parents about the issue.
Sheriff Mike Chapman also is a target of the letter-writing campaign. He is being urged to develop a strategic plan to address the problem and to designate specific deputies to identify sex trafficking victims and arrest their abusers.
Will a letter-writing campaign have an impact?
One Loudoun high school employee in the audience thought it might. “This is Loudoun County. It is amazing what parents can do. We don’t have exams anymore.”