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ABQ conference tackles issues with sex trafficking

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hundreds of law enforcement, medical professionals, prosecutors, advocates and others who often work in the “shadows” – the world of prostitutes and their pimps – met in Albuquerque on Tuesday for a conference on human trafficking.

“It’s a domestic problem and it’s a state problem,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas, who hosted the conference at the Marriott in Uptown.

In 2016, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office served eight search warrants and six arrest warrants and worked on 33 sex-trafficking cases around the state. This, the second conference Balderas has hosted on the topic, drew a regional crowd.

Sharon Pino, a deputy attorney general, told the conference that successful prosecutions in trafficking cases are dependent on the services offered to victims – many of whom are addicts.

“Unless we are offering them services … what is their incentive to walk away from the traffickers?” she said.

Cara Pierce, an assistant U.S. attorney in Dallas, said criminals are drawn to sex trafficking because they see it as a “low risk, high reward” crime. It’s much more difficult to prove someone is trafficking sex workers compared to drugs, she said.

Despite that, she presented a summary of several of her recent cases from northern Texas that led to lengthy prison sentences.

Yazzmine Bouldin, who works at the former Albuquerque Rescue Mission, renamed Steelbridge, told her story of surviving the sex trade. She said when she was 15, a man charmed her into thinking they were in a relationship, but then had her repeatedly raped and drugged and forced her to work as a prostitute, which she did for the next four years.

In a question-and-answer session, Bouldin advised medical professionals and police officers who talk with people who work as prostitutes to ask more questions to find out how they got involved in the trade. She suggested counselors or others ask prostitutes what they wanted to do with their lives when they were young.

“Create another world for them,” she said.