Sonoma County not a stranger to human trafficking

A girl is heading home from San Diego on a pleasant summer evening, enjoying the breeze from her open windows when an old, beat up car catches up to her. The driver is an older man with sunglasses on and a bandana tied around his neck. The girl speeds up, and so does he. Realizing a dead end is coming up, the girl quickly pulls in, but the man uses his car to block her from getting out. 

Panicked, she locks her doors as he begins to hobble over. The only thing the girl can do is floor it over the hill by the side of the road, race home and call the police, only to be informed this is not the first time the area has heard reports about a strange man approaching women.

Human trafficking is a prevalent epidemic in Sonoma County, as well as in many college towns around the world. Since students often struggle with financial issues, this makes them the perfect target for traffickers to lure them into their dangerous traps. Knowing the warning signs of trafficking and what to avoid can be a lifesaver for many young men and women who could be vulnerable. 

Contrary to popular belief, not all human trafficking is solely sexual. It is literally a form of enslaving people to do a variety of different lude and inhumane acts. 

According to Anti-Slavery International, “people can be trafficked for many different forms of exploitation such as forced prostitution, forced labour, forced begging, forced criminality, domestic servitude, forced marriage, and forced organ removal.” 

Also, trafficking can be done in the area that a person is taken from—it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be sent across seas or borders. 

The people that are at the highest risk are those suffering from poverty and financial insecurity. Traffickers are extremely manipulative and will use job offers and promises of a better life to trick people into being enslaved. 

For single mother Sophie of South Wales, these promises seemed legitimate, and once she moved in with her so called new friend, she was forced into labor and prostitution, BBC reports. 

“Sophie was given no money, blackmailed and forced to have sex with various men . . . Sophie and her young children were also being effectively starved.” The horrors of these events are often overlooked by outsiders as a person with long hours and little money. But unfortunately people are being trafficked everyday in silence. 

According to the Sonoma County Gazette, 43 percent of human trafficking in California takes place in the Bay Area. With this large and surprising statistic, young people are at a high risk, especially college students. 

To stop this epidemic, knowing the warning signs to look out for are key to protecting individuals in the community of all ages from falling into slavery. 

In an era where the internet contributes to one’s everyday life, exciting job offers may appear that could be too good to be true, or meeting up with an online date or long distance friend could be deadly. 

Watching out for potential red flags like extreme anxiety, little to no money, long work hours, substance abuse, and physical injuries could all point to potential human trafficking in a loved one. 

The stereotype that all people who are enslaved are doing sex work or are being transported around the world isn’t true, and looking out for people in the community with these red flags could save lives. 

Living in a world where these things exist is horrific. The fact that many individuals have to automatically not trust someone when we are told to is difficult. However it is always better to take extra precautions than to end up in a situation where there is no way out. 

January is human trafficking awareness month, and Sonoma County will be putting on various films and campaigns to bring awareness to this the rising issue in our community.