We hear about human traffickers targeting immigrants. We hear stories about victims lured abroad. But we often don’t hear about U.S. citizens trafficked not far from home and in plain sight. It happens in Orange County. It happens in Fullerton.
One of the most egregious forms of trafficking is the sexual exploitation of children. The first speaker at “Found in Fullerton: Human Trafficking 101” at FLDWRK on May 23 was a former Fullerton High School student named Oree Freeman who survived being trafficked as a child and now works with an organization called Saving Innocence to help bring awareness to and help stop human trafficking.
Ms. Freeman told her story to a room filled with mothers, daughters, teachers, clergy, parishioners, elected officials, community members and non-profits who provide services for and advocate against trafficking.
Ms. Freeman was born in Chowchilla state prison to a single mom. A family adopted her. She said her basic needs were met, but she was bullied at school because of her skin color, didn’t talk to her mother about sex or drugs, and was “very innocent.”
When she was 8 years old, a family friend molested her. Child Services “stepped-in,” but her family still did not talk about “those things.” She said the trauma did not cause her to become “overly sexualized.”
She was sexually abused again at 10 and the perpetrator only received 6 months in jail. She said she did not become angry. She “held those things” inside and continued to be bullied at school. At 10, she also first learned that she was adopted.
At 11 she said she “got into trouble” at school and was put on probation in the juvenile justice system. Her adoptive mother put her “back into the system” as a foster child because, she said her adoptive mother didn’t want her anymore.
While doing community service at a library a woman befriended her. She ran away from her foster home and her new friend took her to the home of a sex-trafficker who began trafficking her on the streets of Orange County.
She continued going to school and even played sports at school, but “No one at my school knew I was trafficked,” she said.“ She also said, “No one asked if I was ok.” The trafficker had tattooed her neck and not even a doctor ask about that.
Ms. Freeman recalled a situation when at the age of 12 and “wearing very little (clothes),” she walked into a McDonalds and a mother clutched her child close to her. The mother did not realize Ms. Freeman was a child too and also needed to be protected.
Ms. Freeman said that traffickers leverage a person’s “insecurity.” She said 78% of exploited children were sexually abused at home. A trafficker’s control is “more mental than anything,” she explained as she described her, “Normal was being raped 7 to 15 times a night,” and, “Living to make money for somebody else.”
At 15 she was finally safe, living at Crittenden. “That place saved my life,” she said. They saw her “as a human being and as a child.” She asked that others would see children and adult victims of trafficking as humans too.
She alerted parents that traffickers have access to their children if their children have access to the internet and she urged parents to “have that uncomfortable conversation with your kids.”
Not all human trafficking is sex trafficking. Stephanie Taylor, who is an anti-trafficking program coordinator for the Salvation Army and serves on the OC Human Trafficking Task Force spoke next. She provided the federal definition of Labor Trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000.
Labor Trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” Sex Trafficking under the TVPA, is similar circumstances, but in which the ”person induced to perform (a commercial sex act) has not attained 18 years of age.“
Ms. Taylor showed a 2014 public service announcement called “Broken Dreams” about a daughter, a father, and a recent college graduate all surreptitiously recruited into slavery. In Orange County, people “drawn to a better life” can end up in domestic servitude, nannies, or exploited in in hotel and motel or construction industries.
Last year there was a call from Fullerton to the national trafficking hotline. Ms. Taylor was given a phone number to contact the caller. She spoke with the victim over 9 months when the employer was out of house and their children were at school.
“Undocumented individuals are highly vulnerable,” Ms. Taylor said. This victim had lived here for 11 years but hadn’t been further than the Target around the corner. Her traffickers threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement if she tried to leave. She developed what is known as a “Trauma Bond” with her trafficker. She raised their children like they were her own while being threatened that her own child would be harmed if she left.
Ms. Taylor met the client at Target to talk about a program with a safe place, potential immigration relief, being able to see her daughter again, and possibly get money for her unpaid work. She developed a trust with her client. Her client learned to feel safe, in control, and appropriate boundaries. Now her client is safe and in a nursing certificate program.
Ms. Taylor recommended that when something doesn’t seem right, one should observe and assess whether a potential victim appears controlled or unable to speak for themselves, cannot leave a job, someone else has their immigration documents, or they fear for the safety of family members or themselves.
Bethany Anderson, Director of Camino Immigration Services, who works with Solidarity, a non-profit that works with communities living in the Garnet and Maple neighborhoods of Fullerton, said “Immigration and human trafficking interact together.” The immigration system is difficult to navigate and to apply for legal status, creating an increases risk of exploitation where work goes unpaid or underpaid.
People who arrive with or without documentation can “come forward as victims of trafficking” and apply for legal status. She provides affordable immigration services to people who have been trafficked and for victims of violent crimes and domestic violence.
Camille Hernandez from OC United talked about providing “Trauma Informed Community Development.” (https://ocunited.org/events/respite-conference) She said children who are abused, neglected, or live with household disfunction have a high level of trauma that makes them vulnerable.
She referenced a book called “Pimpology: the 48 laws of the game” which describes how pimps control a person by either preying on their weaknesses or by tearing them down and then making them dependent on their “pimp” for restoring their self-worth.
Sgt. Juan Reveles from the OC Human trafficking Task Force spoke last after returning from San Bernardino where he said they discovered that a victim had returned to her trafficker after advocates had flown her to Minnesota.
Like Ms. Hernandez, he referenced a book called “The Naked Soul of Pimps and Prostitutes,” read by OC law enforcement according to a 2015 OC Register article. He said the book explains how a pimp fills the role of “daddy” for women and girls who were neglected as children.
Before 2012, Sgt. Reveles explained, the District Attorney’s office had only filed 6 pimping cases because juries were not sympathetic to a victim who was a prostitute. Now they explain human trafficking to a jury before the victim enters the court room to help the jury “see through (the victim’s) defense of her pimp.”
He said that sex trafficking is in every city in Orange County because the internet is everywhere. “Even in Irvine,” he said. It just “looks different and costs more.”
On June 13 at 1pm at the Mural Room at the Fullerton Police Station there will be a Fullerton Human Trafficking Partnership Meeting for businesses and community members to get more involved locally.
Event organizers recommended joining Polarisproject.org and carrying the Hotline number for victims to call 888-3737-888 or text “be Free.”
The OC Human Trafficking Task Force will have their next meeting on June 26 at 10:30 am at 1221 East Dyer Road Suite 120, Santa Ana, CA 92705. For more information please contact Linh Tran at Ltran@waymakersoc.org or 714-765-7938
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