SAN DIEGO - A survivor of child sex trafficking came forward to share her story on Monday, appearing with San Diego Rep. Juan Vargas, who on Tuesday will introduce his first piece of legislation, which is meant to combat child sex trafficking.
"I know firsthand that slavery is not dead here in America," said Hazel C. with Vargas by her side.
The fact that Hazel was even standing in front of the Hall of Justice is something of a miracle, but she refuses to be called a victim. Hazel said she is a survivor of child sex trafficking.
On Monday morning, she appeared in front of the court with the recently elected congressman.
Vargas' first piece of legislation, Hazel's Law, is named after her.
"This is the fastest growing organized crime in America… sex trafficking of children," Vargas said.
He said part of the reason it is growing so fast is that it is extremely difficult to prove a trafficker knew a child was under 18 when forced into prostitution. Vargas' bill eliminates the need for prosecutors to prove that.
"That's why it's so important to change the issue of knowledge because once you do that, you can give longer terms to these people that are trafficking our children," he said.
Hazel said, "I was born here in San Diego. I was raised here and this happened to me here in my own city."
She said shortly after being kidnapped by 41-year-old Maurice Lerome Smith of Oceanside, she was forced into having sex with multiple men a day and forced to deliver up to $1,200 a day to Smith, who kept all the money. Then one day after Smith assaulted her, breaking her nose and cutting her lip, she saw her chance at escape.
"He got mad and left," she said. "He left his phone in my reach and I ran and I locked the door and I made a phone call and I was gone 20 minutes later."
Smith was arrested. After a year-long federal trial, he was convicted and is now serving a 30-year sentence.
Vargas, along with a Republican co-sponsor from northern California, will introduce the bill on Tuesday. It then goes to the Judiciary Committee and if it makes its way out of there, on to the full House of Representatives. Vargas did not have an estimate for when all of that might happen.