Friday, December 30, 2016

How an Uber driver stopped child sex trafficking in Elk Grove

How an Uber driver stopped child sex trafficking in Elk Grove
By Max Resnik, KCRA


An Uber driver who suspected child sex trafficking might be taking place in his vehicle reported it to police Monday. He said the signs were obvious and he couldn't stay silent.

Keith Avila, who had barely surpassed his one-month mark with Uber, picked up two women and a girl from Oak Park with the intention of taking them to a hotel in Elk Grove.

The ride, which figured to net Avila less than $8, was supposed to be a short one.

"It was about 13 minutes. Something like that. I'm going off memory but about 13 minutes," he recalled.

What ensued was anything but a routine Uber fare.

Avila said the girl who rode next to him in the front seat appeared to be about 12 years old and was dressed in attire that was not age appropriate.

"She had a really short skirt," he described. "So, you could see all her legs, and it struck me as odd because she was so young and she was dressing like that."

Two women rode in the back. Elk Grove police identified them as 25-year-old Destiny Pettway and 31-year-old Maria Westley.

Avila said one of the women controlled the young girl, whom Elk Grove police describe as a 16-year-old runaway.

While the teenager's attire caught Avila's eye, he said it was the discussion between one of the women in the backseat and the girl in the front seat that caught his ear.

He said the woman in the back coached her for her hotel visit with a man identified as 20-year-old Disney Vang.

Avila said the woman told the girl, "'First thing you want to do is ask: Do you have any weapons?

When you're hugging him, just ask, do you have any weapons? Pat him down. Pat him down while you're hugging him. Get the donation, first. Before you start touching him, going in there, get the donation first.'"

This discussion, coupled with the girl's attire, alerted Avila to the possibility that child sex trafficking was taking place in his car.

After dropping all three off at the Holiday Inn Express in Elk Grove, Avila said he moved to a safe distance and immediately called police.

"I think this is a perfect example of the community coming together and recognizing that something is not right," said Beth Hassett, CEO of WEAVE, which serves victims of domestic and sexual abuse in Sacramento County.

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Hassett said traffickers are looking for runaways like the 16-year-old girl. They're also looking for boys, any children in foster care and any children who look lost or vulnerable.

Women are often used as recruiters, she said, because there is an easy way of establishing trust with a female victim.

Hassett said Avila noticed obvious signs and believes the public can also look for them as well.

"[You're] looking for young girls or boy who aren't where it seems like it should be," Hassett explained. "They're obviously not on their way to school. You don't think there are books in that backpack. They're lurking around. They're with somebody who's a lot older than them."

Uber did not comment on the situation involving Avila but praised his actions.

Uber does not provide human trafficking training, but it is partnered with ECPAT-USA, which works to end child slavery.

Literature on their partnership and education about child sex trafficking is available to drivers on Uber's website.

Pettway and Westley remain in the Sacramento County Jail on pimping related charges. Their bail is set at $500,000.

Vang was also arrested but was released from Sacramento County Jail Tuesday on bail.

This article originally appeared on KCRA.

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