SAVANNAH, Ga. — Federal authorities said Thursday they have uncovered a sex trafficking network that forced women into prostitution and traded them like slaves between cities in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas.
Twelve people — eight men and four women — were indicted in U.S. District Court in Savannah. Prosecutors said they had acted since 2008 as a network of pimps who lured dozens of women to the United States from Mexico and Central America and forced them to work as prostitutes in homes, hotel rooms and mobile home parks. Men were charged $30 to have sex with them, and the women were moved between cities or states about once a week, authorities said.
"Some of these women would be forced to perform up to 30 acts of prostitution a day," said Edward Tarver, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
Authorities said they rescued 11 women, most in their 20s and from Mexico and Nicaragua, who were being used as sex slaves. They're getting help while assisting prosecutors with their criminal case, authorities said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said the case should serve as a wake-up call as to how widespread sex trafficking has become in the United States. He noted his agents made 967 arrests related to human trafficking and sex tourism last year.
"To those who would believe that sex trafficking doesn't happen in America, reflect on this case and think again," Morton said at a news conference.
Authorities said 10 suspects had been arrested by Thursday and two were still being sought.
Morton said 44 more men, most of them customers and all from other countries, were arrested. Those in the United States illegally will be deported, while the others will be prosecuted, Morton said.