The silent, invisible victims

By Monique Lewis / Special to Viewpoints

By Monique Lewis / Special to Viewpoints

A paroled woman approaches the stage.

People are gathered in the hundreds to hear her tell her story.

This paroled woman is 49-year-old, Maria Suarez, and she is a survivor of human trafficking.

Human trafficking also referred to as modern day slavery, is a global phenomenon that involves obtaining and maintaining the labor or services of another through use of force, fraud, or coercion in direct violation of an individual’s rights.

According to the Press- Enterprise, soon after Suarez and her family settled in L.A. County, she was offered a job that she thought involved cleaning and answering phones. When in fact, she really had been sold for $200 to a 62-year-old man who practiced witchcraft.

From 1976 to 1981, Suarez was kept in captivity and repeatedly raped inside her Azusa, CA home.

“Where could I go, or what could I do,” Suarez recounted to the Press-Enterprise.

A neighbor found out that Suarez was being held as a sex slave, and he killed her captor.

Suarez confessed to cleaning and hiding the table leg used in the murder, and served 22 years in prison for the crime.

Suarez was paroled in 2003.

When introduced to the idea of Human trafficking being in the United States, Riverside City College student, Johanny Martinez was in shock.

“I had no idea that this kind of thing was happening here,” Martinez said. “I always thought that it happened in Thailand, not in the U.S. I had no idea that girls, women, and teen boys are being exploited like this, in this way. “

According to the Department of Justice, there are at least 200,000 slaves under the age of 18 in the United States today.

The average age of these children is 13 years old.

Eighty percent of them are girls.

The life expectancy of girls is 7-10 years from when they are abducted and start their enslavement.

There is even evidence to suggest that Human trafficking is closer than people might expect.

“Human trafficking is happening here in Riverside,” said Riverside resident Dawn Carter.

Carter is a modern day abolitionist. She is working on becoming the Inland Empire’s Representative for an abolitionist campaign known as One Voice to End Slavery.

This “Just For One” campaign works toward partnering with organizations to provide everyday people with ways to make a difference in human care.

“There are online venues, such as Craigslist that list ‘prostitution in Riverside,'” Carter said. “They even advertise different ethnicities that can be offered to buyers.”

In a National Public Radio interview, Malika Saada Saar, cofounder of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, said that the rise of Human trafficking may be due to the Internet being a virtual network to advertise prostitution.

“Part of why this is happening, is that the Internet has really fueled an uptick in the trafficking of children,” Saar said. “So venues, especially Craigslist, are evolving as almost a virtual slave market in which children are being sold over the Internet.”

Mandy Embrey is a RCC student who was as appalled as Martinez after she was introduced to the reality of Human trafficking occurring in Riverside.

“This is so scary,” Embrey said. “I am a teacher, and this is just scary. The fact that this is happening right under my nose, I can’t even imagine.”

Embrey wanted to know what she could do to spread awareness.

Sandi Morgan, Administrator of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, said that getting familiar with basic vocabulary surrounding trafficking is crucial in spreading awareness.

“Using the correct vocabulary when referring to this subject is so important,” Morgan said. “Some people liken the idea of children being sexually exploited as “child prostitutes,” Morgan said. “I disagree, especially when it comes to children.”

“When you use the phrase “prostitution” you are suggesting that ‘I decided to sell myself.’ No child would say this. Instead, we say, the commercial sexual exploitation of children. As in, someone is taking advantage of someone else.”

A way to get involved is, to begin to educate oneself of the indicators of a possible Human trafficking victim, and to call the Stop Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

Embrey and Martinez both walked away, aware and open to help raise awareness about Human Trafficking.

“I want to get it out there, that ignorance is not bliss,” Martinez said.