Some startling facts and a warning to parents of teens were relayed during a frank discussion on the growing menace of human trafficking plaguing the local communities and most of the world, May 2, during a special meeting held at the Mt. San Jacinto College Campus in Menifee.
The meeting hosted by MSJC teacher Dr. Vera Stamenkovic brought Anne-Michelle Ellis, previous coordinator San Bernardino Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, and D.W. Duke. Los Angeles attorney, author and lecturer involved in human rights in the Middle East, to talk about human trafficking victims that include millions of men, women and children across the world.
Duke led the discussion giving a history of slavery and human trafficking that has been in the world since the beginning of civilization that still remains today.
“It hard to estimate,” Duke said. “But there may be as many as 20 to 25 million people involved in human trafficking today.”
He said those being trafficked have either been forced through fraud or coercion, separating that from slavery, although slavery still remains an issue in some nations.
Ellis who continues to counsel dozens of victims of human trafficking in Riverside County, said studies have determined that 70% to 90% of commercial sexual exploitation victims have actually been victims of some form of sexual abuse when they were children either from relatives, parents or friends. Those who abuse the children “are usually in the family, a relative or friend.” She explained either by threat or shame the young victims are told never to tell.
Ellis said in the beginning of her lecture there is a distinct difference between the term human smuggling and human trafficking.
Smuggling is actually is a crime against a country’s borders involving illegal border crossings and involves transportation only, but it is often a gateway to human trafficking, Ellis said. Human trafficking is a crime against a human person involving forced labor or commercial sex acts. Transportation can become an element but is not required. Smuggling debt can be used as a means of control, Ellis said.
Duke said that in today’s smuggling acts, transportation by car, bus or other vehicle, is no longer a part of the prosecution of smugglers. He said that many residents become unaware they may be transporting smuggled persons or things and may not be a part of the conspiracy.
Ellis in a graphic showed there is a continuum of child sexual abuse leading to the commercial sexual exploitation of children often seen today. It begins with a child linking “love” to sex and abuse by family or relatives. From there, they will feel shamed or guilty by parents who put the sex violation as the fault of the victim, followed by a lowering esteem, believing they are only a sex object. That may lead to becoming a runaway or homeless in poverty and need. That feeling of loss or power can be easily turned by promises from the media or other sources like the billion-dollar sex industry. They are easily approached by recruiters, pimps or traffickers who offer them “love,” money or a means of escape from poverty or guilt.
She showed a short clip of a man, posing as a management specialist in law enforcement, who was actually a sex recruiter.
“Anyone can be a recruiter,” she warned.
She said not all human trafficking victims are in the sex trade with most being pushed into forced labor. They are being victimized by those who helped them find a job, get a loan or gain entrance into the country.
“They make it so they will never be able to get out of debt,” Ellis said.
She said when someone approaches a youth on the street corner with a bouquet of flowers for sale, a bar of candy for a local cause, they should ask questions of them, such as who their supervisor is, or what school do they go to and their teachers. They might be being trafficked and have a reason to notify authorities.
As for parents with teens and those approaching their teens, she said be aware of what they are using or doing with social media.
Making her point, she asked those in attendance who were over 35 to tell her what the name of the social media icons on a movie screen were and if they knew who they were directed too. Only a few were able to name or identify icons like KIK, Snapchat, Tinder, Instagram, Tagged, Textme, Whats app, Viber, ooVoo, Twitter or Poof, all familiar with teens today.
She said parents should be watchful of the icons and who is sponsoring them, as they could be being used by traffickers to influence children.
She gave a series or other things that could be indicators that a child or someone who could become a victim of human trafficking. They include having a history of emotional, sexual or physical abuse; signs of physical abuse and sexually transmitted infections or diseases; history of runaway or current runaway; sudden appearance of expensive gifts, clothing or other items; appearance of an older boy or girlfriend or friend; drug or alcohol use or abuse; lack of interest in previous activities; school absence and gang involvement.
Ellis invited the students and those attending to contact her with any questions about the human trafficking situation in the community at email@example.com or call (951) 310-0575.
Tony Ault can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.