The growing threat:
There is a fast-growing threat to the children of Orange County and most parents are oblivious to it. Residents in Orange County believe sex trafficking is someone else’s problem…a problem for underprivileged or low-income neighborhoods. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sex trafficking is growing at a staggering rate in Orange County. According to Bradley Myles, deputy director of the Polaris Project, sex trafficking is the third largest and fastest-growing crime everywhere because it combines high profits with low risk. But a review of data from 2012 to 2015 by Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force shows Orange County out-pacing every other county in the state as far as sex trafficking. During that period, only 22 percent of sex-trafficking cases were from Orange County. Fast forward to today, Orange County accounts for more than 75 percent of new cases. Why the disproportionate growth in Orange County?
Well, Orange County is one of the most affluent counties in California, with a median household income of $81,000. Couple that with the numerous tourist attractions, sports venues and beach cities and it’s easy to see why these predators find Orange County so appealing. And unfortunately, there is a huge demand in Orange County for their service according to OCHTTF.
Why you should be concerned:
Up to 300,000 American children (under 18) are lured into the commercial sex trade every year and that number is steadily growing. The average age of these victims is eleven to fourteen. Approximately 80 percent are women and children kidnapped or lured and then imprisoned in the underground sex service industry. The average life span of these victims are reported to be 7 years. Some are found dead from physical abuse, malnutrition, or suicide. The ones who are lucky enough to make it out alive will never be the same.
No woman or child is immune. Although women and children from poor families do appear to be at a somewhat higher risk, sexual exploitation is not limited to a particular racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group. In fact, in one study most of the street children encountered were predominantly Caucasian youths who had run away from middle-class families. Pimps have gone on record saying they target white women and girls for economic reasons. The demand is high and customers are willing to pay more.
Traffickers Modes Operandi
Traffickers fancy themselves as savvy entrepreneurs. They use various methods to recruit their victims. Such as personal ads promising high paying careers in modeling or acting. Facebook and Instagram have become favorite tools for traffickers to lure teens and young women into their web of debauchery. Other recruitment techniques may include setting up fake employment agencies, using acquaintances already in the business, newspaper ads, front businesses or abduction. Traffickers may be neighbors, friends, or small business owners. Teens and young women often lack a certain level of confidence and/or self-esteem making them ideal candidates for these master manipulators. An ex pimp once told me a good pimp is a master at identifying what’s missing in a young woman’s life then filling that void. But a great pimp can create the illusion of a void in a young woman’s life even when there is none. He will then fill that pseudo void and become whatever his victim needs him to be. Sex traffickers usually prey on people with a history of mental, physical and sexual abuse. Sex trafficking occurs in residential brothels, online escort services, massage parlors, strip clubs, and street prostitution.
Why would a victim stay after the abuse starts? Her victimizer convinces her that he is the only one who truly loves her, understands her and capable of giving her what she needs. Because many of these young women and teens don't understand what a healthy relationship looks like they mistake this abuse for love.
At this point, the trafficker has utilized multiple coercive tactics on his victim including physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, confiscation of identification and money, isolation from friends and family, and even renaming their victims. Some traffickers supply their victims with drugs to control them. As a result, victims feel trapped and fear leaving for a myriad of reasons; including, psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment, or physical threats to their safety.
What can you do?
At the risk of sounding cliché, taking on sex trafficking does take a village. Many adults feel uncomfortable discussing this topic with teen girls, especially when the teen hasn’t experienced problems related to trafficking. But the initial conversation related to sex trafficking should never be after she has encountered a problem or had contact with one of these predators. Parents, organizations, law enforcement, schools, etc, must play a proactive role in the education process. Education should not only prepare them for what to look out for but should help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like. Although it is important to arm these young women and teens with knowledge to help them avoid being victims, you cannot disregard those already pulled in.
You will not get through to every would-be victim through proactive measures, so you must become familiar with indicators that someone may be a victim of sex trafficking; such as,
- Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
- Unexplained absences from class
- Less appropriately dressed than before
- Sexualized behavior
- Overly tired in class
- Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
- Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
- New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
- Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
- Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
- Shows signs of gang affiliation?
Not all victims will display all signs and this list is not all-inclusive. For more information go to https://humantraffickinghotline.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-signs.
It is imperative you know the right way to respond if you encounter one of these victims. Responding the wrong way can have catastrophic consequences for you and the victim. There are great organizations at the national and local levels that help prepare you for situations like this. But they only work if we are aware of them and use them.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) is a national, anti-trafficking hotline and resource center serving victims and survivors of human trafficking and the anti-trafficking community in the United States. The toll-free hotline is answered live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. For more information, visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org.
- Human Trafficking Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/11103
- Human Trafficking By the Numbers. (2016). Retrieved from http://socialwork.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.001.0001/acrefore-9780199975839-e-945
- Sex Trafficking. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/sex-trafficking
- Human Trafficking Numbers. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers
- Theresa Walker | firstname.lastname@example.org | Orange County Register. Retrieved from https://www.ocregister.com/2016/09/13/orange-county-a-big-lucrative-market-for-sex-trafficking/
- Most invisible crime’: What human trafficking looks like in OC Retrieved from www.thepantheronline.com/features/most-invisible-crime-what-human-trafficking-looks-like-in-oc
- Restoring Hope. Retrieved from https://arkofhopeforchildren.org/child-trafficking/child-trafficking-statistics
- It’s a skeptical World: Retrieved from www.skepticalworld.com/sex-traffickers-instagram/