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In Harm’s Way

In Harm’s Way

Human trafficking is not just an international problem; it is a growing issue right here in O.C.

We hear the horror stories about human trafficking in foreign countries. Children kidnapped from families in public marketplaces and smuggled into a terrifying life of abuse and slavery. 

Though devastating, it seems remote. Except it isn’t. The same kind of thing is happening in Orange County. Vulnerable children in our neighborhoods and school systems are being brought into “the life,” as it is called, every day. And foreign and domestic victims are brought in and out of Orange County continually. 

“While there have been a few high profile labor-trafficking cases, in Orange County over 95 percent of identified domestic human trafficking is sex trafficking,” says Ronnetta Johnson, director of Community Service Programs Victim Assistance in Santa Ana. “Ninety-seven percent of domestic trafficking victims are girls and women, but boys are trafficked as well. Approximately 40 percent of the clients we encounter are minors.” 

Local organizations are taking up the fight on behalf of those who have become victims of trafficking. The Orange County chapter of the Salvation Army, for example, has been providing social services to trafficking victims in Orange County since 2009. 

“Human Trafficking is a modern form of slavery that involves obtaining or maintaining the labor or services of another person through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, says Sherri Harris, anti-trafficking program director for the Salvation Army.  “In Orange County, our clients are often found as domestic servants, home health aides, hospitality workers, in forced marriages, or exploited through commercial sex.  It is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world. And it happens everywhere—even in Orange County.”

The Orange County Department of Education is attacking the problem through awareness and intervention programs to help identify “home-grown victims” before they are preyed upon by a calculated system designed to bring in very young children. 

“Children might be homeless, runaways or have limited adult support,” says Daria Waetjen, director of instructional services at the county’s education department. “Sometimes they are recruited from schools by sophisticated criminals who prey on their naiveté or vulnerability.” 

Community Service Programs works with law-enforcement agencies across the county through private and public funding partnerships to advocate and help walk victims of domestic trafficking through the often daunting legal process – especially for young victims.

“Orange County has always had a great tradition of public-private partnerships which focus on solving problems,” says Johnson, of Community Service Programs. “Victims of human trafficking come to us with such a variety of needs that it is impossible for one agency to provide all of the services required. The collaborative effort to fight human trafficking and serve its victims must include criminal justice system partners, victim service providers and community members.”  

To learn more about how you can support local groups working to combat human trafficking, visit Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.  If you would like to access more resources or know someone who needs help, visit www.ochumantrafficking.org.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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