BY DAVID P. BERNAL, CHAIRMAN & CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
Sex trafficking of minors remains a dirty secret in the San Francisco Bay Area; however, One Bread Foundation, Inc. and our supporters want to bring it into the light.
California has the weather which is the envy of most of the nation. Hundreds of thousands of new faces visit Northern California each year. We are an exciting vacation and convention destination. Sadly, people coming in to the Bay Area often leave their morals at home, and that makes them buyers of sex.
In the Bay Area dozens of minors are moved each month along networks of human trafficking. While this information will never appear in our Chamber of Commerce or travel brochures, we are uniquely positioned to become a larger stop on the sex trafficking circuit.
Human Traffickers, who make their money by selling the innocence of children and shattering families, view the greater San Francisco Bay Area as an opportunity to sell bodies in San Francisco, Oakland and the surrounding areas.
Compounding the problem is the fact that human trafficking is a difficult and unpleasant issue to tackle. Many people simply cannot believe that it exists, or that it exists even within our own backyards. It does. Here are a few of the issues surrounding sex trafficking that you may be unaware of:
- Discrepancies exist in the reporting of incidents, especially when it involves a minor.
- Young victims of sex trafficking are often entrenched in complicated dependent relationships with their captors, unaware that they’re being forced into prostitution.
- Legislation involving sex trafficking is ineffective, and intervention work by law enforcement and social services is challenging. Lawmen, government agents, lawmakers and victims’ advocates are working to build their own anti-trafficking network.
- Human slavery - once thought to be a thing of the past, now involves adults and children alike.
- Minor sex trafficking occurs in both suburban and urban communities, wealthy and poor families, and racially diverse communities; but, minors who come from impoverished households may be especially vulnerable to victimization. In short, it can happen to anyone and anywhere.
- Events that drive tourists to the Bay Area increase reports of trafficking.
- Some victims are immigrants pressed into service as sex slaves, or youths sometimes lured away from malls and other public areas in the anonymity of a crowd.
The path to wholeness is long and complex. The needs of these victims include, but are not limited to: therapy, addiction treatment, housing and basic life skills. Not the least of which are education and job skills.
Our goal is to eradicate child sex trafficking through public awareness, partnering with other organizations and law enforcement agencies.
Some escort services now cater to offering children between the ages of 8 and 16. The very thought should sicken all of us!
Both the buyers and sellers of child sex must be prosecuted. Specifically, the solicitation of the rape of a minor, soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means, and trafficking for a commercial sex act – are crimes to be punished. I firmly believe that mandatory sentences should be imposed.
Perhaps, what bothers me most is this is a case of Supply and Demand. Sex trafficking is growing with the use of new technologies, and the perversion of sex with children can be found online.
We are seeing in some poorer cities or counties a higher rate of sex trafficking. But, poverty is not the single reason for the rise in sex trafficking – but, it certainly is a driver.
Whenever we talk about human trafficking right here in our own backyards, people typically say, "I had no idea." By increasing awareness, we reduce, bit-by-bit, the freedom traffickers have to operate here.
So, what can you do?
Host a benefit event, art show, bike ride, walkathon or other awareness/fundraiser to help keep other young people free, or for global anti-slavery work. Be creative!
Some practical suggestions include: contacting your local assembly person, state senator or representative in congress. You can support our funding of rehabilitation of children rescued from their life of slavery. And, you can always help spread the word! Helping can be as simple as shopping online starting from our website (http://one-bread.org).