Riverside fights human trafficking

There is an estimated 27 million people held in slavery worldwide.

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By Monique Lewis / Special to Viewpoints

By Monique Lewis / Special to Viewpoints

There is an estimated 27 million people held in slavery worldwide.

Every two minutes, a man, woman or child is being trafficked and then sold into a life of bondage, abuse, threat of violence, serial- rape, and more.

After drug dealing, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry.

Today, there is an estimated 100,000 children that are at-risk for becoming trafficked into the commercial sex industry, in the U.S.

Every state has been counted as to having reports of human trafficking taking place within its borders, including California.

As of recently, Riverside County has responded to the issue by forming an anti-human trafficking task force to combat modern day slavery.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was awarded a grant funding to support the efforts to combat human trafficking. It has one core collaborative partner is Operation Safehouse, Riverside.

In the past 20 years, Operation Safehouse has provided emergency shelter, intervention, and outreach services to runaway, homeless, and other youth in crisis.

In the U.S., there is a huge need for shelters such as Safehouse as 244,000 estimated youth, from the ages of 11-14, are at risk of sexual exploitation. The vast majority of youth at-risk for trafficking and prostitution are either runaways or abandoned children.

In addition, Safehouse found out that traffickers were targeting girls within their own walls.  Pimps are known to recruit girls in transitional housing facilities where they aim to pray on the weak and vulnerable.

 “We were hearing some girls in our facility referring to their boyfriend as ‘Daddy,'” said Jennifer O’Farrell, anti-human trafficking coordinator at  Operation Safehouse.

“Daddy” is the term that girls held in sex slavery use to refer to their traffickers or Pimps.

“We would hear the girls inviting other girls to parties at the request of their Daddy,” O’Farrell said. “If some of the girls decided to go to the party, they may have found themselves recruited into the sex industry where they would be forced to sell their bodies for sex in order to make money for the pimp.”

Once O’Farrell and her colleagues at Safehouse witnessed “girl-to-girl” recruitment at the demand of a trafficker, they wanted to do something to stop it.

“We could not believe that this was happening right under our noses,” O’Farrell said. “We could see that trust had been built up between these girls, and then it was broken. For us, this was all it took for our desire to be a piece of the puzzle.”

Likewise, when the Riverside Sherriff’s Department approached Safehouse about coming onboard with them as a key partner in forming a Riverside County Task Force, they were all in.

RCHAT’s primary objective is to develop resources in the county to help educated, prevent, intervene, and treat victims of human trafficking and exploitation. Likewise, RCHAT aims to coordinate services that are tailored to the characteristics and circumstances of victims of modern day slavery. In addition, RCHAT plans to provide training for law enforcement on investigation and detection, help educate the public by creating awareness opportunities designed to protect further abuse and exploitation of humans, and help provide prosecution for the traffickers.

“Right now, we are currently focused on creating key partners within the community in order to provide an abundance of care to victims,” O’Farrell said. “If we plan on ending human trafficking, we cannot do it alone.”

If you think that you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. This hotline is coordinated with local law enforcement in Riverside County.