Women and Children in Tampa Bay Are Being Branded and Sold for Sex

Right here in Tampa Bay, women and children are being branded like cattle, and sold into sex trafficking. The ABC Action News I-Team conducted a 9-month long investigation to learn more about this shocking practice.

I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern spoke with law enforcement and victim advocacy groups. "It's like branding cattle," said Cpl. Alan Wilkett, who leads Pasco County's human trafficking task force. "It's an ownership mark. Branding is when somebody — a pimp or a trafficker — will put his mark or his symbol or his sign on his victims through some sort of tattoo."

Wilkett described some of the markings that they have seen recently that indicate sex trafficking. 

"Some of the things we're seeing are pictures — maybe a lion's head or it may be the street name of the pimp who's running a street track," said Wilkett. "It could be numbers. Using certain numbers, like 16 because 'P' is the 16th letter of the alphabet — it means I'm being pimped."

He even describes seeing women marked with bar codes that scan using smartphone apps and show their "rate."

"Her response to that was that's what I'm worth. I am worth $30," said Wilkett.

Natasha Nascimento, the founding executive director of Redefining Refuge, says that the Tampa Bay tattoo community needs to work with law enforcement to report these cases. 

"Think about that. Children in a first world country in the United States of America being branded like cattle," said Nascimento. "That's what's happening and it's happening today."

For more on the story, listen to the podcast of our interview with Kylie McGivern and check out the ABC Action News report below.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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