A friend of mine, knowing that I closely follow news about human trafficking, introduced me to a new resource – a sharp journalist out of San Diego who is doing more than just following criminal cases that involve human trafficking.
This reporter, a woman named Elizabeth Aguilera, is also looking at the trends around labor and sex trafficking – putting names and faces on the victims and, more importantly, illustrating how this isn’t just a crime that victimizes immigrants. Human trafficking is impacting kids right in our own neighborhoods, the kids we’ve seen grow from toddlers to teens before our very eyes.
Earlier this month, Aguilera published a piece in the San Diego Union Tribune that raised awareness around a trend that, sadly, isn’t new. The headline of that story speaks volumes: “U.S. sex trafficking victims are mostly American kids.” The headline is based on the revelation in a report released by California Attorney General Kamala Harris last year that 72 percent of human trafficking victims are Americans, not foreigners. More importantly, it was also revealed that victims are now younger – typically ages 12-14, officials said.
Statistics can be funny things. People like to twist facts and stats to meet the definitions of the point they’re trying to make at any given time. As a journalist, it would have been easy for someone like Aguilera to post the stats, find some official to talk about them and then write a simple story that might easily be overlooked.
But Aguilera instead focused the beginning of her story around a typical teenager who found a job as a bookkeeper for a small, home-based business and instead found herself forced into a months-long ordeal of beatings and sexual slavery. Her employer – a pimp who set a $1,200 daily prostitution quota for the 17-year-old girl – is now serving 30 years in prison.
As the owner of a classified ads business, I understand that people are being victimized through the Internet. I understand that predators use classified ads to find their victims and evade authorities. As such, I refuse to give these predators a place to lure victims into worlds of slavery. Geebo does not host personals ads where many of these encounters originate. Sadly, some of my counterparts in the industry still turn a blind-eye about the ads that are running on their sites, so long as the ads generate revenue.
In the end, it all comes down to awareness – making our young children aware of the dangers on the Internet, making our law enforcement officials aware of the way predators use the Internet and, most importantly, making the public aware that these sorts of things are happening – not just in third-world countries, but in our own neighborhoods with our own kids.
Trafficking cases are up across the nation – that’s the bad news. The good news is that, through education and awareness, this trend can be reversed. It must be reversed. I applaud journalists like Aguilera who work on the front lines every day to make sure that we, the people, are aware.