The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) released the 2021 Human Trafficking Victim’s report this month, shedding much light on what they have learned in the past ten years. With the collaboration of police, the justice department, and social service agencies, there has been much progress made on addressing the massive issues surrounding human trafficking in Orange County.
I joined this battle about two years ago and quickly realized how very little I knew about sex trafficking in my community. I thought I would share a few of the things I have learned along the way that might be helpful to you as well.
Early on, I would hear victims referred to as “being rescued” but soon realized that most in the anti-trafficking world refer to victims as survivors. I find this to be a compelling distinction as I have personally witnessed that while there may be some “rescuing” initially by another person or organization, each victim must rescue themself from the holds of their trafficker. It takes a survivor to reemerge from this depth of physical and emotional abuse and create a new life for themself. And indeed, survivors they are!
I have also come to understand how pornography and prostitution perpetuate victimization. The truth is that while some adults may choose these occupations, children do not. Many children have been forced into sex work and are exploited and threatened daily by their trafficker. In the past ten years since the task force began, the laws surrounding victims of trafficking have changed. Minors are no longer arrested for prostitution and are treated as victims instead of criminals. In addition, pressure is being put on internet companies to stop the exploitation of children online.
Perhaps the most significant thing I have learned is how sex trafficking most often happens. Like many of you, I once believed that girls were pulled off the street and forced into sex work. However, statistics indicate that 60 percent of victims knew their trafficker and many of those believed their trafficker was a boyfriend before the victimization began. I have come to understand the significant role the internet and smartphones play in the sex-trafficking arena. These tools are used to advantage traffickers in accessing children while they are presumably safe at home.
These are just a few of the things I have learned since joining the fight again human trafficking. As I continue my journey of learning I hope to bring clarity to others of this dark and insidious industry and see more victims become survivors.