Close to Home: End the nightmare of human trafficking

This January marks 11 years since President Barack Obama first declared the month of January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.|

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

This January marks 11 years since President Barack Obama first declared the month of January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. As Obama described it then, the declaration was meant to “bring us together as a nation and global community to provide that safe haven by protecting victims and prosecuting traffickers.” However, an important question remains: What exactly about human trafficking are we asking our community to become aware of?

At its core, human trafficking is defined as the act of violating the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, and in California it is a felony punishable by up to 12 years in state prison (potentially far longer if the victim is a minor, or if the offense involves violence.) Perhaps to some that conjures up images of young females being lured from their parents by online predators. Others may imagine immigrants packed into trucks and being delivered into forced labor. While those scenarios certainly exist, they don’t paint the full picture.

In reality, human trafficking can take a much subtler form, one that operates in the open and yet is incredibly hard to detect. While force and violence are standard tools for many traffickers, manipulation is just as or more common. This leads to one of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement and victim advocates — that victims often see their traffickers not as enemies but as allies. In many ways this makes complete sense. For years standard practice was to arrest and incarcerate victims of sex trafficking. Similarly, many victims of labor trafficking were reluctant to report these abuses to law enforcement for fear of being detained and deported.

While those of us in law enforcement and victim support still have a lot to learn, we have come a long way. The Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaborative group created in 2007, has provided training to schools, the hospitality industry and the general public about how to recognize signs of trafficking and what to do when it’s spotted.

Potential red flags might include someone speaking for another adult in public; someone controlling another person’s money, cellphone or identification, or someone having very few or no personal possessions. So, what to do if you suspect that someone is being trafficked?

Resources for human trafficking victims

Verity offers trained counselors at (707) 545-7273

National Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888

Family Justice Center Sonoma County (707) 565-8255

More information: www.fjsc.org

The simple answer is to report it. If you see someone in danger call 911. If the situation doesn’t seem to involve an immediate threat, Verity has confidential counselors, specifically trained in human trafficking, always available to talk to at (707) 545-7273. The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at (888) 373-7888.

Another resource is the Family Justice Center Sonoma County. Opened in 2011, the Family Justice Center provides coordinated support services to any and all clients who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, elder financial abuse and stalking. Services are available bilingual and bicultural. They services are also free, confidential, and safe. To reach the Family Justice Center, call (707) 565-8255 Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. or visit the website at fjcsc.org.

Being aware of trafficking in our community is a good first step, but we must work together to make sure victims know they have the support and resources to leave their traffickers, while we do everything we can to hold accountable those that engage in this form of modern-day slavery.

Brian Staebell is a Sonoma County chief deputy district attorney. Marsha Lucien is executive director of the Family Justice Center Sonoma County.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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