By Ferne Saltzman
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which puts this horrific crime of stealing and defiling our young children front and center in our community and around the globe.
Many people have an inaccurate idea about this crime, or because it is such a painful topic, they simply don’t think about it at all. Some believe it happens only in small towns far away from our sophisticated urban communities or only in poorer neighborhoods. In truth, it is annually a $150 billion industry, destroying the lives of millions of our children worldwide and reaching every socioeconomic level, whether the super wealthy or those living in abject poverty, victimizing every ethnic arena, and procuring victims from every educational stratum of our society.
Another misconception about human trafficking is how many children ages 11-17 are living their lives either in domestic slavery or as victims of commercial sex exploitation. The total number of child victims around the world is estimated to be between 25 and 40 million. To bring it closer to home, 3,000 children every single year disappear and become victims of human trafficking from California alone in just three cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. And California has the dubious designation of being the highest trafficking state in the United States.
How these children are treated is nothing short of appalling and terrifying. These girls are repeatedly raped up to 15-20 times a day, subdued with drugs, beaten, and simply eliminated if they cause too much trouble. It was surprising to me to learn that a percentage of children taken were boys, not girls. While being in a small minority, these young boys end up as slaves working the fields, or as houseboys, or in factories. Most of these children are moved far from home where they have no possible way to escape and only 1% of the boys or girls are ever recovered.
The most appalling fact to me, is that most of these children are not taken by being dragged into a van, or whisked away at the border, or kidnapped while walking home alone, although all of those make up a percentage of trafficked children. The majority, a full 82%, are stolen from none other than our always available, technological miracle, the internet. Yes, that tool which makes life so simple, answers so many of our questions, enhances our information highway, and eases our shopping trips, is the very thing that is enticing our children into a life of slavery.
There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that we cannot totally eliminate this horrific problem as long as there are men willing to abuse small children for personal pleasure. The good news is that since the internet is where the majority of children are taken, it is also the easiest path to prevention. Law enforcement, while it is working diligently to help and does amazing work, cannot possibly police what our children do on the internet or cure this problem. Prevention is our only weapon. And that responsibility falls on the parents.
I know it’s unpopular to monitor our children’s online activities, invading their precious privacy by prying into their every online moment, and the mere mention of restrictions to a teenager will undoubtedly ruin any chance of a peaceful family dinner. But without keeping a watchful eye, limiting their access to chat rooms, and enforcing parental restrictions to their internet freedom, we have little chance of protecting them against the heinous dangers that lurk in that little box to which most teenagers are totally addicted.
The only cure in this case is prevention. And the best prevention is knowledge. To that end, the Rotary Clubs of Woodland Hills, Calabasas, and Greater Van Nuys, have joined together to put on a Grassroots Forum to educate the valley’s parents about the real threat of human and sex trafficking to our children and about the dangers that lurk even in their home computers and their children’s cell phones.
This free event will be held on Saturday, January 20, 3 to 5:30 pm at the Rose Goldwater Room Community Center at the Westfield Mall, corner of Owensmouth and Vanowen, Canoga Park. There will be speakers from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Children and Family Services, Los Angeles Police Department, and a young woman who was trafficked and rescued will share her moving and motivating story with the guests. Those in attendance will receive a packet of information about how to protect their children, a list of resources in case of need, and other pertinent information. If you have young children, grandchildren, neighbors with children, or friends with young children, please make time to attend this event and learn how to protect them at this 1st Annual Human Trafficking Awareness event. For information and to RSVP please phone (818) 754-4743 or email email@example.com. Help us keep your children safe!
Ferne Saltzman is an author, photographer and member of the Rotary Club of Woodland Hills. Visit leadingwithmyheart.org.