A young woman who was made to work against her will and was convicted of prostitution is shown in the District. (Nikki Kahn/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Opinion writer

Human trafficking is a cruel and inhumane practice found in countries around the world. So it should come as no surprise that President Obama proclaimed this month National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The exploitation and coercion of girls and young women into prostitution, however, is not limited to places overseas.

Right here in the nation’s capital, our most vulnerable residents — children — are subjected to sex slavery. Their stories don’t make the evening news or even warrant blurbs in your morning paper. But human trafficking is, and has been, a shadowy and seamy part of D.C. life.

Let me tell you about “Stacks” and “Kandy.”

In 2012, Kandy posted ads on the Internet offering sexual services byyoung girls. When contacted at the number in the ad, Kandy negotiated a price to have a minor and another female prostitute go to a Northwest D.C. location.

At 2:30 a.m. on June 23, two teenagers, 16 and 19, knocked on the door of a D.C. hotel room. Members of the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force were waiting inside. Interviewed by authorities, the teens told their stories: Stacks and Kandy had traveled with them throughout the D.C. region, providing sex to male clients in exchange for money. In between “dates,” Stacks and Kandy gave the teens marijuana and ecstasy. Stacks would remain in the car with a handgun and a scope-attached semiautomatic firearm while the girls provided sexual services.

Dominique Emanuel Bell, then 22, aka “Stacks,” and Candice Ponder, then 26, aka “Kandy,” both of Laurel, were sentenced to prison in 2012 for seven and four years, respectively.

Then there’s the story of “Smoke” and “Cupcake” and what they did with a 14-year-old runaway from another state, whom they encountered in 2011. They didn’t take her back to her home. Instead, Smoke took her around the District and Maryland to prostitute for him. That’s after Cupcake had taught the teen how much to charge and how to conduct herself as a prostitute.

So happens, the D.C. police picked up the girl for truancy, and she told on Smoke and Cupcake. “Smoke” — Robert Braithwaite, then 37, of the District — was sentenced to 10 years in prison; “Cupcake” — Tavia Crudup, then 23, of Suitland — got one year and a day for tampering with evidence: having the victim’s clothes thrown away and schooling her on how to obstruct the investigation.

Ah, but that was five years ago. Old stuff. Oh yeah? Try these three on for size.

Four months ago, Daraya Marshall, 35, and Jarnese Harris, 29, both of the District, were indicted in U.S. District Court on charges that they engaged in sex trafficking of three children and transported them between the District and Maryland for prostitution. Marshall was also indicted on charges of child sexual abuse and production of child pornography. Both pleaded not guilty and are being held pending a Feb. 4 hearing.

Marshall and Harris could face life prison terms if convicted. And why not? They allegedly began trafficking one of the children in the summer of 2014, and the other two last year. The indictment also alleges that Marshall engaged in sexual acts with two of the children while they were younger than 16. He also is charged with producing and possessing child pornography depicting one of the children.

In 2014, the same year in which Marshall and Harris allegedly began their trafficking, Jason Whren, then 33, of the District was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing and prostituting a 15-year-old girl.

Whren enticed the child to travel from Seattle to the District, having contacted her via the Internet and phone. When she got to town, Whren immediately sexually abused her, then forced her to walk D.C. streets to find clients. Undercover agents busted him. A Superior Court judge and jury did the rest.

Then there’s Linwood Barnhill, then 47, who resigned from the D.C. police department after his arrest in December 2013 on charges of pimping two D.C. girls, ages 15 and 16. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2014 to seven years in prison.

Isolated cases?

U.S. attorney spokesman Bill Miller told me this week, “Since 2009, about 70 defendants have been prosecuted in [federal and D.C. courts] on charges related to human trafficking . . . including abducting or enticing a child into prostitution.”

“The overwhelming majority of those cases” he added, “resulted in convictions.”

The U.S. attorney’s office has a large task force and an active outreach program on human trafficking, and is urgently scheduling training sessions with D.C. police and schools. Seven churches are joining the Faith Coalition Against Sex Trafficking in our Nation’s Capital to sponsor a meeting Jan. 30.

They can’t do it alone.

Let’s help the president and the prosecutors: Human trafficking is in our region, in the nation’s capital, in your ward, on your block.

Open your eyes. Don’t look abroad. Look down the street.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.