wichita_kelloggsWICHITA, KS – According to Wikipedia, in 2006, Money magazine ranked Wichita 9th on its list of the 10 best big cities in which to live. In 2008, MSN Real Estate ranked the city 1st on its list of the most affordable cities.

According to police and social workers, however, 2009 is seeing an alarming spike in the number of teenage girls being forced into sex slavery in the country’s 51st largest city.

Four such cases have been investigated this year and authorities believe there are many more cases that have gone unreported or unnoticed. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, police says the problem is worse than they thought and blame street gangs targeting runaways and homeless children  for the increase in incidents.

“They believe that 300 to 400 Wichita-area children every year are at risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation,” the paper reports. “The gangs lure the children with food, money, shelter and romance, police said. Gang members train their victims in sex acts, often using pornographic movies as ‘training films.'”

According to Kansas.com, the reason why many cases are not reported is that the chidren are “off the grid,” either alienated or abandoned by their parents, many of who are incarcerated or lost to drugs or alcohol. Some have been absent from school and other social organizations for years.

The police say victims are often forced into the local sex trade and the films depicting the sexual exploitation commoditized on the Internet. Mike Nagy, an officer with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit, says gangs trade and sell children like slaves but the crimes are hard to investigate because the victims often are brainwashed or threatened, and most won’t testify.

He said most are runaways who “couch surf” from house to house looking for a place to stay, or are homeless and live on the local streets. Because of that, they are easy targets, he said.

“A guy drives up beside you and asks if you need a place to stay,” Nagy said. “They offer money, they buy them food and clothes, and these kids are feeling hungry and vulnerable.”

Social workers and law enforcement authorities will meet Tuesday to discuss coordinated responses to the problem at a conference titled “Community Action to End Domestic Sexual Exploitation.”