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Lawrence Taylor Case Highlights Suburban Sex Trafficking

It's a not so well-kept suburban secret.

In hotel rooms, in massage parlors and online, the cash-for-sex trade thrives. It is as easy as scouring Craigslist, making a phone call and setting up a time and place.

Anti-sex-trafficking advocates say these cases are common but are largely ignored and unprosecuted. That is not the case, of course, if you are NFL legend Lawrence Taylor.

Taylor was arrested Thursday on charges he paid for sex with a 16-year-old runaway at a Holiday Inn in Montebello, N.Y., who is believed to have been forced into prostitution.

The case has drawn intense media spotlight, but advocates such as Carolyn Fish, executive director of the Rockland (N.Y.) Family Shelter, hope the lessons are not lost in the celebrity glare.

"The real issue is trafficking and what has happened to young people and why it is that we live in a culture that allows this," said Fish, who works with victims of sexual trauma.

Fish said the victims are often young girls and boys who are trafficked and forced against their will to sell sex. "It's very common with runaways," she said.

According to the federal complaint against accused pimp Rasheed Davis, the girl was given drugs and was beaten and had her services advertised with cell phone photos and website ads. Davis was charged Friday with sex trafficking of a minor.

Taylor, a football Hall of Famer, was charged in Ramapo, N.Y., on Thursday with third-degree rape.

Even though New York enacted one of the nation's toughest laws against sex trafficking in 2007, arrests and convictions remain low.

There have been 20 arrests and seven convictions for sex trafficking in the state since 2008, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Andra Ackerman, director of human trafficking and policy for the state agency, said numbers were low in part because federal agencies sometimes took over trafficking cases, as was done in this case.

Also, she said trafficking charges were often pleaded down in settlement agreements, a move that helps victims avoid difficult court testimony.

Some advocates say better police work is needed to tackle the problem of sex trafficking.

Kenneth Franzblau, director of anti-trafficking initiatives for the human rights group Equality Now, said police need to ask the right questions to find out how a prostitute was put in that situation.

Law enforcement should also go after the traffickers and the men who pay for sex, said Franzblau.

Franzblau, an attorney who investigates these crimes, said advertisements abound in the suburbs for prostitution.

Suburban hotels located near major thoroughfares were frequent meeting places, he said.

Franzblau said in many cases the prostitutes are teenagers and women of color in desperate circumstances .

"Guys who are paying for sex need to realize that frequently the person they're paying for does not want to do that," he said. "This is not an aberration. It happens all the time."

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