Human trafficking in wealthy communities? It happens, experts say

A mother with a promising career in a wealthy area became the target of a cruel crime, one that has no boundaries of age, social status or wealth.

Jeffrey Epstein and his partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, have been accused of violent sex crimes in Naples. Both are mentioned in a lawsuit saying they raped a 26-year-old real estate broker in front of her child, and Epstein threatened that if she spoke up, she’d be fed to alligators.

The pair is accused of trafficking the woman to other men.

When people think of Naples, they think of wealthy people living in mansions, but human trafficking is not uncommon there, and some experts say money can make a person more vulnerable.

For 14 years, Linda Oberhaus has run The Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples. She never really thought about the location – until someone asked her.

“And so, I reached out to a human trafficking survivor, and because I was stumped, why Naples? And her response to me was because that is where the wealthy men are,” Oberhaus said.

But where there’s money, Oberhaus said, there’s often even more risk.

Trafficking victims aren’t just runaways, prostitutes, drug dealers or drug users. They can be mothers and daughters.

Oberhaus wasn’t surprised to hear about the lawsuit against disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. A woman claims he took her to Naples and raped her, then trafficked her to other men.

“We need to keep in mind that it’s the buyers that are driving the demand for these traffickers to really manipulate and get their hooks in these girls,” Oberhaus said.

She said every child is vulnerable, no matter where they live or who’s raising them, because traffickers target victims online, forge romantic relationships, trap them and threaten them.

“Many moms think that, that it couldn’t happen to my child. Well, I’m here to tell you, Yes, it can. Because I know victims who were born and raised in very good families right here in the Naples community who have been trafficked,” Oberhaus said.

That’s a scary reality, but the point of this story isn’t to scare; it’s a reminder to stay alert.

Oberhaus said her best advice for parents is to not let kids take their phones to bed. So much of the luring happens after hours, over the course of many hours, online.

PDF download: Human Trafficking Prevention & Teens – The Shelter for Abused Women & Children

Click to access HT-Parent-guide-005.pdf

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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