“It doesn’t happen here!”
That’s the usual response to the subject of human trafficking. Forced commercial sex or bonded slave labor with adults or children is all human trafficking, and it does happen here.
California has the highest rate of human trafficking in the USA, and it’s the country’s fastest growing crime.
So, what can we do?
First, we need to understand what it is and who is involved. Opal Singleton does just that. She’s president and CEO of Million Kids, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Riverside that’s working to bring awareness and an end to human trafficking and child abuse. She’s also the Training and Outreach Coordinator for the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Singleton trains governmental and corporate personnel, educators, parents, and civic and faith-based groups on identifying human trafficking and protecting youth from predators.
The HT increase is especially prevalent in the Inland Empire, due to the convergence of interstate freeways and so much vacant and foreclosed property spread over a large area. This makes it easy to hide victims and leave quickly.
For years, many people thought HT victims were foreigners, runaways, and homeless kids easily duped by friendly traffickers. That still happens, but instead of befriending potential victims at bus depots, traffickers now use the Internet.
“In Southern California,” says Singleton, “Ninety percent of sex trafficking is gang related.” She explains that gangs now utilize social media to lure victims and use a younger gang member to contact teen girls through the many teen dating sites. Once he makes a catch, he flatters and flirts his way into a fantasy relationship that often progresses into the girl sending him nude pictures. After they meet in person, her trusted fantasy “boyfriend” soon becomes her pimp, who mistreats her and forces her into prostitution and forced sex with his fellow gang members and other gangs. Boys are also HT victims.
Singleton, who authored Seduced: The Grooming of America’s Teenagers about human trafficking, says 62 percent of victims come from foster care or are runaways, homeless, or even pregnant. Others are teens and young women with low self-esteem, easily flattered and swayed by a fantasy boyfriend.
Once a girl is caught up in the sex trafficking web, she is emotionally dependent on her boyfriend/pimp, who constantly reminds her she is damaged goods and worthless – except to him.
It’s hard to escape, especially when the boyfriend threatens to kill the girl or her family if she leaves. But there is hope.
With training by Singleton and numerous human trafficking task forces located throughout California, including Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Orange counties, HT survivors can receive shelter, counseling, and often job training. Law enforcement personnel and nonprofit and faith-based organizations also belong to the task forces.
Sandra Morgan, founder/director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University, educates and train students, professors, and others about human trafficking. She was instrumental in bringing HT awareness to many Soroptimist clubs, including my Brea/La Habra club that has a monthly HT awareness table at Brea Mall.
Morgan, part of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, was recently named to the White House Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to end human trafficking.
So, what can you do? Be aware, and if you see something, say something. If you witness someone in danger, call 9-1-1.
If you suspect human trafficking, call the
24-Hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or text “Info” or “Help” to 233733 (BeFree).
Signs of an HT Victim
1. Victim is kept indoors and forced to perform services or labor
2. Victim is prohibited from leaving and may show signs of abuse
3. Victim’s legal documents and money are kept by a “boyfriend”
4. Men are seen at all hours frequenting a house, massage parlor, or even industrial units
HT awareness has spawned Truckers Against Trafficking, Bikers Against Trafficking, Men Standing Against Trafficking–Inland Empire, Busing on the Lookout, and Strike Out Slavery, among others.
Be alert, be aware, and know that it does happen here!
Terri Daxon is a freelance writer