Catching up with Raul, an old college friend at a summer reunion, he had genuine interest in the type of work I was in. Although I was quick to recap who KidsFirst is, what we do and who we serve, I was curious why the inquiry.
Raul was a fantastic athlete in college and been in the construction field since graduating in 1980-something. He was also unmarried and had no kids. He was the last guy I thought would be interested in social services, parenting classes and counseling.
“Well,” he offered, “my girlfriend and her daughter could use some help from an organization like yours.”
He had my full attention.
“Her daughter is rebelling,” Raul went on, “She sneaks out at night all the time to see her older boyfriend. He gives her all these nice shoes and clothes. She even has two cell phones.”
Wow! Stop it right there. I warned Raul that, based on that brief description, there’s a strong chance his girlfriend’s daughter is the victim of Human Trafficking, CSEC since she’s a minor. Human Trafficking and Commercially Sexually Exploited Children have been an ever-growing challenge internationally, nationally and locally to an ever-growing list of affected children, parents, teachers, cops, district attorneys, legislators and social services. It is a genuine epidemic.
I was first made aware of the large and growing Placer County sex trafficking problem more than five years ago. Easy access to our freeways was the easy explanation given. Interstate 80. Highway 65. Made sense.
A few years and several hundred sex-traffic victim interviews later, we now know the real reason why Placer County has become a hotbed for the pimps and the pimped out: we can provide their ideal client! We have good jobs and we are nice and we are educated and we have expendable income. We have plenty of men in the middle-class and middle-aged categories. I was both shocked and disappointed.
The simplest way to end this problem in Placer County is to stop providing the pimps their customers. Engaging in their services is not a victimless crime. The men paying for sex with the virtually-enslaved is illegal, but most importantly, it destroys the victims. It is demoralizing, degrading, demeaning and causes a stigma the trafficked must carry for the rest of their lives. The burden of stigma – the guilt and the shame – should be borne by these well-behaved, well-off customers who are exploiting the vulnerable. What’s next in helping create this much-needed stigma here? I don’t know but I hope this column is a start.
As of a couple of years ago, minors in California who’ve been trafficked began being treated as victims, not criminals. A huge success for those seeking to protect the trafficked and a huge change in the way they are treated and served once freed from their pimps. Depending on their circumstances, formerly trafficked adults may also be provided the same care. Minors or adults, they are all victims.
If you suspect a minor is being trafficked, please report to Child Protective Services at 866-293-1940 or 916-872-6549. You can remain anonymous. If it’s an adult, report it to your local law enforcement agency. If you need help, you can self-refer to Stand Up Placer by calling their 24-hour crisis line at 800-575-5352.
Mike Mason is community development and communications manager for KidsFirst Counseling & Family Resource Centers. For more information, call 916-774-6802 or visit kidsfirstnow.org or facebook.com/kidsfirstnow. KidsFirst has an office at 124 Main St., Roseville.