I want to give a shout out to our local Soroptomist Clubs for taking on the issue of human trafficking. For those of you who may not be acquainted, human trafficking (HT) is the illegal trade of human beings, mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. This wonderful group of servicewomen organized a demonstration against HT last year in Calexico, where our local district attorney was one of the presenters. It was an effort to put the spotlight on a dark subject.
In recent decades, the sex industry has grown greatly, with the internet becoming as popular as a TV in homes throughout the world. Like many, I assumed that people who participated in pornography and prostitution were “drug addicts who were selling themselves” to meet the needs of their addiction. That is a stereotypical belief held by many. I am a member of the National Association of Christian Social Workers, and attended their national conference several years ago. While I was there, I attended a workshop on “slavery in the 21st century-human trafficking.” My eyes were widened to the facts that many in positions of work servitude, and in the sex industry, were not being paid, but being held in their situation through threats of harm, deportation, and other coercive consequences. We have long known about how “pimps” keep their girls in line through violent threats.
The conference caused a paradigm shift in my thinking. The conference seminar also made me aware of when there are huge natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, traffickers come in and just take child orphans who are powerless. Women throughout the underdeveloped areas of Asia and Eastern Europe are promised a normal job, transported to a new community without family or friends, and then enslaved in a life of prostitution. The threat of death, abuse, and dismemberment can cause a victim to soon become a volunteer.
I attended another HT conference in San Diego a last weekend. It reaffirmed what I had learned and brought home: the message that HT is the second largest criminal industry, behind drugs, and it is growing. I heard this from our DA, Mr. Otero last year, and it was confirmed again. You can sell a kilogram of marijuana one time, but a child or women can be sold several times a night, year in and year out, for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imperial Valley is transnational corridor. There is prostitution locally, and more in Mexicali and illegal labor abounds. HT is an issue here, and will grow. The first step is awareness that will hopefully lead to actions.
There are several things anyone can do. If you access pornography or prostitution, you are keeping the demand alive. Sex industry involvement is not a victim-less crime. Say NO to the nasty! If you suspect a situation where someone is being held against their will, report it to police. Support for organizations that want to stop the traffic is also needed, so donate, volunteer, and spread the bad news of HT as a reality. On a legislative level, we here in California passed Proposition 35 which makes consequences for HT more serious, and mandates more training for law enforcement. We may never stop all the traffic, but we can slow the rate at which it runs over women and children.