The International Labor Organization (ILO) now estimates that the human trafficking industry is worth approximately $150 billion and that almost two-thirds of that annual profit ($100 billion) is from commercial sex trafficking, according to Time.com.
From 2010 to 2012, nearly 1,300 human trafficking victims were found in California alone, and 1,800 suspects were arrested. Seventy-two percent of the victims were Americans who were born in the U.S., the California Attorney General's Human Trafficking Working Group disclosed.
In March 2015, the 15th Annual Preventing Abuse Conference was held in Orange County, California, providing a glimpse into the experiences of American human-trafficking victims and an introduction to programs developed by newcomers combating “modern-day slavery” in the United States, along with history and updates by pioneers in the field.
Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation President Tony Nassif personally selects attendees and presenters; and, when he invited me to attend the conference again this year as a member of the LAPD Metro Human Trafficking Taskforce, my first question was, “Will Noreen Gosch be there?” I understand I was not the only one who immediately asked that question.
Noreen Gosch is a mother who lost her youngest son, Johnny, 12, to traffickers in Des Moines, Iowa. He was abducted early one morning while delivering newspapers in his quiet residential community.
Her book, “Why Johnny Can’t Come Home,” tells her heartrending battle against law enforcement and governmental agencies who tried to stop her pursuit of the truth about the organized syndicate that sold her son into a life of sexual abuse, drugs, prostitution and child pornography. Her spellbinding story should be heard or read by all mothers and everyone who cares about child welfare. (It will be the topic of Part 2 of this series.)
‘PREVENTING ABUSE’ CONFERENCES
Human trafficking conferences usually feature presenters from local and federal law enforcement, governmental and non-governmental agencies, and former victims from other countries, trafficked into the U.S. by the sex industry or as forced labor.
These victims were often sold to traffickers by someone trusted in a village or town who promised them a better life, educational opportunities for children whose parents cannot even afford to feed them, or the chance for work that will allow money to be sent home to families. These victims often come from countries of pervasive political corruption and, even after they realize they are captives, they fear the police more than their abductors.
We see a human-trafficking case in the news occasionally, but there is a constant commerce worldwide on a 24-hour basis of sex slaves. Victims are often young children or people chosen because they match a certain erotic preference. An example of the prevalence and volume hidden in plain sight is the ads in throwaway papers for massage or escort services, featuring seductively posed young girls or boys of various ethnic origins -- and guaranteed to please.
"Preventing Abuse" Conferences, provided by the Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation, focus on Americans who were abducted and trafficked in the U.S. or relatives of victims who were forced into prostitution or pornography within the United States or transported to foreign countries -- and others who are actively involved in some aspect of counteracting this lucrative, depraved industry.
This year’s articulate and passionate speakers included young women who were kidnapped as teenagers and forced into prostitution in organized rings or by pimps who regularly beat them into submission. Some were branded by tattoos as “property of…”
Others were average -- even shy -- girl-next-door types who were abducted by someone they trusted, drugged and brutalized sexually in gang rapes before being trafficked under the threat of death or harm to their family if they tried to escape.
A former CIA operative described the work of his team of retired law enforcement officers who travel clandestinely to locations outside the U.S. where an American victim is known to be held. He uses Marine Corps tactical training to plan and remove victims or obtain their release.
One young woman told of being kidnapped and held in a “basement dungeon” with a dog collar around her neck, repeatedly sexually tortured by a man who alerted her to her impending murder because he “was beginning to like her too much.” When FBI agents received a tip on her whereabouts and broke in to save her, she hid under the bed, with a chain still attached to the dog collar, shaking and silenced by fear.
An attorney who works to keep children from entering the child protective services abyss presented shocking statistics on abused kids who end up on the streets or commit suicide after being placed in “safe” foster homes.
Although a few are able to find faith and hope after painful rehabilitation (which will never really end), these victims are living confirmation that human trafficking is not just something that happens “over there” but an insidious plague in our local communities.
(For interviews, contact Preventing Abuse Foundation, Inc. at [email protected])
Photo Credit: Wikicommons, Imagens Evangelicas/Flickr