By Maggie Vespa. CREATED Jun 18, 2013
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As horrifying as the idea of modern slavery is experts say, the industry is alive and well in America.
That includes southeastern Arizona.
Beth Jacobs has no doubt. She was a slave.
"You know, he was a man with a weapon, and I was a young girl," she said.
Kidnapped at 16, her pimp forced her to work the streets of Chicago as a prostitute.
"Your self esteem just crumbles. They talk to you and tell you nobody's going to want you," she said.
Finally, when she was 22, Jacobs escaped.
Today, decades later, she fights human trafficking from southern Arizona.
She says the story of an Ohio mother and daughter, held allegedly by three people as 'modern day slaves', hits home.
"They beat you," said Jacobs. "They threaten your family, threaten your mother, your brothers and sisters. You know, they scare you. They put fear into you, and you stay."
"It does happen here, and it is underground," said Dr. Karna Walter.
Walter teaches a course on human trafficking at the U of A.
She says researchers estimate worldwide, there are 27 million slaves.
"It's an opportunity for people to make money, to have power and control over other people but they do it in usually some fairly discreet ways," she said.
And undocumented immigrants are a frequest target.
Case in point: the 7-Eleven scam on the east coast, where the feds say store owners forced immigrants to work in 'slave like conditions'.
That means long hours, sometimes, with no pay.
Advocates blame a culture divided by the border debate.
"The more that we push people into the shadows, the more that we criminalize the presence of economic migrants who are coming through this area, the more vulnerable that we make populations to this kind of crime," said Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network.
And it's point that, they say, makes southern Arizona a hub for sex, human, and slave trafficking.