Human trafficking and child prostitution is often associated with countries such as Thailand and, now, Costa Rica. But make no mistake. It's happening here in the United States as well.
Just two months ago, four men were arrested on suspicion of pimping in Sonoma County as part of a national crackdown on child prostitution. Three teenage girls — ages 15 to 17 — who had been working in prostitution were rescued during operations in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. According to Sonoma County sheriff's officials, one was a local resident.
According to U.N. figures, of the estimated 800,000 people who are transported between countries each year, an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 are brought across the U.S. border.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 created federal penalties for those who participated in trafficking acts. But no federal law is on the books targeting customers who pay for the services of sex slaves.
Legislation authored by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, known as the End Sex Trafficking Act of 2013, would create federal-level penalties for those who purchase sexual services from trafficked minors. This bill would allow prosecution of those "obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting" sexual services for children trafficked from state to state. It has bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
These and other issues of human trafficking will be the subject of a forum on Oct 5. at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa. The forum, sponsored by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, will feature panelists including Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and Dana Bryant, executive director of Crossing the Jordan, a Sonoma County organization that helps girls and women find stability and housing after being involved in prostitution or suffering from addiction or domestic violence. The discussion, which will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., also will include an FBI special agent who was involved in the national effort in late July to arrest more than 160 pimps and rescue more than 100 young girls being forced into prostitution.
For information about the forum, call the commission office at 565-2693 or go to the Facebook page of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights.