Neighbors seek answers after rooming house raid in Reading

 

The indictment of eight suspected gang members accused of running a sex-trafficking ring in Reading is helping shine a light on a widespread problem.

The gang, calling itself Sevens, is accused of forcing women and girls under the age of 18 into prostitution.

"Human sex trafficking is an issue everywhere," said Jennifer Sawyer with Safe Berks.

In March, authorities raided a rooming house in the 100 block of South Fourth Street. They said it was the gang's headquarters.

Sex abuse victim advocates said the arrests relieve only part of the problem. They said teens with a history of running away, homelessness, domestic violence and sexual abuse tend to be the prime targets.

"They are isolating them from family, from friends," Sawyer said. "Often times, they are moving them around from place to place."

The suspects in this case forced victims to take drugs, threatened them and, in some cases, locked them in a room for days, according to the federal indictment.

Experts said sex trafficking victims aren't always kept captive in hotels or boarding houses like this one. Sometimes, they are given a little bit of freedom.

"They are oftentimes allowed to do certain things, like go to school or hang out with their friends, to a certain extent," said Sawyer.

Traffickers, she said, instill a sense of fear in victims.

"That fear of what's going to happen to them if they don't comply," Sawyer said.

If you know a teen who all of the sudden shows up with bruises, tattoos, or an older boyfriend, take a closer look.