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Organization aims for stricter human-trafficking penalties

Locals to collect signatures for ballot initiative
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at how sex trafficking hits closer to home. For a first-hand account from a sex trafficking victim see Sunday’s Journal. Any place there are cheap motels and the Internet, it’s there — the sex-trade thriving. That’s according to those working to stop human trafficking. Lake of the Pines resident Peggy Fava said even in Placer County, it isn’t difficult to find examples of young men and women being bought and sold for sex by human traffickers, more commonly known as pimps. That’s why come Dec. 1, the executive director of Bridge-Network Ministries has volunteered to canvass Auburn. She hopes to collect enough signatures to help get the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act on the November 2012 ballot. The CASE Act would enact stricter penalties for human-traffickers and online predators. “I work with a lot of these women in the youth detention center that have been impacted,” Fava said. “This is crazy. This has got to end. A lot of them were victims at a very young age. The laws are so stacked against the women. The ones I am directly impacted with are underage.” If the CASE Act passes, changes made to the current law would include increasing the maximum prison sentence from 8 years to 15-years-to-life for the sex trafficking of a minor. Fines for sex-traffickers would go up from a maximum of $100,000 to $1.5 million, and would be administered by the California Emergency Management Agency to fund victim services. The ballot initiative does not call for any tax-payer funding. The CASE Act would also require all sex traffickers to register as sex offenders and sex offenders to disclose internet accounts. Law enforcement officers would be mandated to complete two hours of training on human trafficking. The ballot initiative is being spearheaded by California Against Slavery, a non-profit, non-partisan group. The organization needs 750,000 registered voters to sign the petition before April for the initiative to be put before voters. Fava said many of the young women have been trafficked across state lines into Placer and Sacramento counties. Their pimps often promise them love and security, then force them to perform sexual acts for paying customers. Many of the women involved end up in Juvenile Hall, while their pimps go unprosecuted, according to Fava. “It’s not just an inner-city issue. It’s in every scope of life,” Fava said. “It’s a big industry and they target the at-risk kids. There has been a couple that were just abducted for no reason. The first goal is to get the purveyors or exploiters.” Eventually, the organization also hopes to enact stricter laws for people, or “Johns” buying sex. Human-trafficking close to home? As the Executive Director for Acres of Hope, in Applegate, Christine Ourada has also seen the physical and emotional toll a life of prostitution and sexual abuse can take on person. Some of the women Ourada works with were sold into the sex-trade by their parents for drug money. Acres of Hope helps many of these women transition into a healthy, independent life. Prior to her work with Acres of Hope, Ourada worked for Agape International Ministries, which was started by a former Rocklin couple, Don and Bridget Brewster. Agape International rescues women from the sex-trade in Cambodia. Ourada said stiffer penalties for human-traffickers would help make that transition easier for the women involved. “So often it’s a young girl (who) has a perpetrator and they live in fear all time. They know they are still out there and they know they have friends,” Ourada said. “If perpetrators are caught at an early point, it can help to negate some of the things that have been damaging to these women. They know there is justice.” Lieutenant Mark Reed from the Placer County Sherriff’s Office said human-trafficking and prostitution cases are far less prevalent in Placer County than big cities, although because of the Internet, it is safe to assume it is happening. He agrees with the need for stricter penalties for perpetrators. “I think that is something we would be in favor of,” Reed said. “We are in favor of anything that helps protect these people. It would be silly to think that it’s not going on. It’s nothing we deal with on a daily basis.” The Sacramento Police Officer’s Association is one of many law enforcement agencies that have endorsed the ballot initiative. Undercover in “the game” California Against Slavery Executive Director, Daphne Phung, was moved to action two years ago when she learned about the depth of human trafficking stateside. “No other crime violates a child’s innocence and future like this issue of trafficking,” Phung said. “The second thing that really impacted me about this issue is it’s a human rights issue. I naturally get angry about things that are unjust. I would say if they (people) opened their eyes, they will see the issue. The only reason they don’t see it is because they are not looking for it. It’s happening in their own backyard.” Phung has gone undercover with law enforcement in Oakland to see the issue at play for herself. One girl she met was 16 years old and from Sacramento, according to Phung. She said perpetrators have renamed sex-trafficking “the game.” “Once you are in this game you can only get out in a couple of ways,” Phung said. “Either you die, or are so diseased that nobody is ever going to pay for you, or you become a perpetrator yourself.” Pimps have also begun targeting younger and younger children and even those with mental disabilities, because they can be easier to manipulate, according to Phung Phung said aside from human-trafficking being a human rights issue, the public should care because it impacts them in other ways. “Many of these victims are in our public system already. They will remain in our public system long after they are out,” Phung said. “It’s a public healthcare issue for us. It’s a cost issue for us. The potential of these girls is taken away from them.” From the inside storage facilities to before the public Rosario Dowling is the Northern California Regional Director for California Against Slavery. She works to educate Sacramento law enforcement, faith-based, foster and other non-governmental agencies, along with the Sacramento Unified School District, on the issue. Dowling said people may not be aware how close the sex-trade is to home. She said she was shocked to realize some girls were being held near her home in Elk Grove. “Up until recently I would have said it’s enough to care that another human is being raped and sodimized. More recently I came upon a girl who was19 years old,” Dowling said. “She was very close to where I lived, being held in a storage facility. She doesn’t even remember how long she was in a storage facility. It was in the middle of the summer — to be held in a storage facility, on the outskirts of Elk Grove, and to be drugged and raped and tortured, and I’m driving by this storage facility — it’s very alarming.” Despite the horrific conditions these young women, and even men, live in, Dowling said many have lost hope for something better. “They have no recourse, specifically if no parent is out pursuing them to bring them home,” Dowling said. “In fact, they are too brainwashed and really under threat, so they are not looking to go back home. Our society, our community — we already look down on these girls. Why go home? Why work toward something better?” Dowling said getting the issue before the public on the ballot would be a pivotal step forward in raising public awareness. “I would say minimally it would give credence to what law enforcement is trying to put out there,” Dowling said. “Just putting this in front of the voters is going to be such an education for them. People will be speaking to their friends and neighbors and quoting statistics.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.