“He kept telling me, ‘If you love me, you’ll do this.’” Tonya (pseudonym) was 15 when she became a victim of human trafficking. What she thought would be a one-time thing became an every day routine for the next few weeks. Night after night and bar after bar, Tonya would go out with Eddie (pseudonym) while he advertised her to potential “suitors.” Her story, told by ICE, is one of 100,000 victims in the U.S. alone, and 24.9 million globally.
A humanitarian crisis running rampant in our very communities, Alameda County is ranked third highest as a hotspot for human trafficking in the country, with 80 percent of cases in California coming from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
“A question I often get, is how do you tell [a victim]? How do you report it? This issue can honestly be affecting anyone. It could be a teenage girl in the mall, walking around in UGGs and carrying Starbucks in her hand. Sometimes it’s very hard to distinguish,” said Tiffany Gipson Chaplin, deputy district attorney of Alameda County.
Chaplin identified the various risk factors for children involved in sex trafficking. With 58 percent reporting previous drug use history and 70 percent with runaway history, risk factors play a large role in helping to anticipate the problem. Also, statistics show that human trafficking disproportionately affects one ethnic group. In Alameda County, 61 percent of victims are African American, 15 percent are Latino, and 12 percent are Caucasian.
These statistics are reported by H.E.A.T. Watch, created by District Attorney Nancy O’ Malley, a five-point program designed to combat human trafficking by raising community awareness, training law enforcement, prosecuting offenders, coordinating victim services, and changing legislative policy. O’Malley also founded the Alameda County Family Justice Center (ACFJC) in 2005, where support services are available for victims to further their safety, recovery and wellbeing. Programs such as the Young Women’s Saturday Club work with at risk or affected girls in attempt to support them.
So what can you do? This answer can be tricky to navigate given the hidden nature of this crime, and its high profitability. But the first step is to be educated about the subject, and share that information to those in your community. Help debunk myths that exist around human trafficking. Traffickers are not like the movies show them; they come from a wide variety of socioeconomic classes and some chose to be trafficked because of the profit they will receive.
The next action you could take is donating to groups that work to prevent human trafficking, or even volunteering your own time. The Polaris project offers fellowships for those interested in working for anti-trafficking agencies for a shorter amount of time.
Another important combatant is to boycott (as a consumer) companies that profit from trafficking. A list can be found at the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. The tech industry, for example, has a higher percentage of sex purchasing than other industries.
As Chaplin concluded, “I see lots of these cases, and I see where people would have identified risk factors and helped out. Spreading this knowledge through our communities is just as crucial as providing services to victims.”