News / USA

Californians Target Human Trafficking

Mike O'Sullivan
LOS ANGELES - A recent U.S. State Department report says 27 million people worldwide are subject to forced labor and sexual slavery.  A major effort is under way in California to fight the problem.

Virginia Isaias was forced to marry at 15 in her native Mexico, and later kidnapped with her six-year-old daughter and forced into prostitution.  Her story is told in a documentary now being produced, called Sands of Silence.
 
Isaias herself is now an anti-trafficking activist who talks about the cost of human trafficking to groups such as this one, in Santa Ana, California.

 "They take your baby and give it to another woman and they give another woman's baby to you. So a mother is less likely to flee.  They also threaten you and have people watching over you," said Isaias.

IsaIas escaped and paid a ransom for her child.  Her story is all too common, says filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle.

"Because of globalization, or migration, that pushes people to move from one country to another and they become vulnerable to traffickers," said Alvarez-Stehle.

Alvarez-Stehle has also created an online game to educate young people on the problem.

United Nations figures show that victims of trafficking are mostly young, and 80 percent are subject to sexual exploitation.  Twenty percent are subject to forced labor, and one in five victims is a child.

Officials in Los Angeles recently announced an educational program to alert drivers and bus riders to the problem of sexual trafficking of young people.  L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca says they are victims, not criminals.

"There are hundreds and hundreds and perhaps thousands of young women, young girls under the age of 18, who are engaged in prostitution for pay, and the man that's handling this prostitution of bondage is someone that we're really going after, the pimps," said Baca.

A measure on the November election ballot in California would increase penalties for traffickers, provide help for trafficking victims and require convicted sex offenders to disclose their Internet identities.  Chris Kelly, the man behind the drive, is a former executive with the Internet site, Facebook.

"We want to make sure that the worst of the worst, the convicted sex offenders, that Facebook and other online sites - Craigslist and Backpage and whoever else - have the means to track them and basically say, 'You're not going to be able to ply your trade in this online environment,'" said Kelly.

Virginia Isaias says trafficking survivors must reclaim their dignity.

"It doesn't matter what happened or what you are living through, what matters are your values and your strength. No one can take that away from you because you were born free," said Isaias.

Isaias wants others to know there is hope for trafficking victims.

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