Human Trafficking: Victims don't always fit stereotypes

Posted on March 4, 2009

In late 2005, a fifteen-year-old African-American girl came to a neighborhood teen shelter terrified by a local street gang. She reported that gang members lured her into a home in San Diego, where they laid out assault rifles and handguns on a kitchen table. They threatened to kill her grandmother and little sister if she refused to leave with them to be prostituted in Las Vegas. This case prompted the community of San Diego to form an alliance, Action Network of San Diego, to address the prostitution of children and human trafficking.

When I began serving as a chaplain to victims of human trafficking, the first three victims I met were not what I expected. They were not from Latin America or Asia or Eastern Europe — they were typical California surfer girls: blond, Anglo, and blue-eyed.The first, in her late-twenties, came from the affluent community of La Jolla. She was a student at SDSU who reported that, as she was coming out of a downtown club, she was hit over the head. She came to in an apartment in New Jersey were she was sexually assaulted by her captors. She was then trafficked for several years across the United States. Because there is a huge demand for white, blond, blue-eyed girls in Japan, her traffickers planned to move her there. At the airport, while in line to board the plane, she wrote on a piece of paper, “Help, I’m being kidnapped,” and threw it on the carpet. Someone picked it up and, by what she calls a miracle, she was rescued. This young woman now works to fight human trafficking by educating law enforcement agencies.

I also visited two young victims in Juvenile Hall. After being rescued, one fourteen-year-old girl was incarcerated for prostitution — our justice system often overlooks the reality of trafficking and criminalizes the victim. She stated she had been kidnapped off the street on her way to school at the age of nine in Oceanside. She was trafficked from San Diego to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. In her frustration at my surprise and ignorance, she said, “Just listen to the music…it’s in the music.” She was referring to rap music, which glorifies this type of brutal activity.

The third young girl was in a foster home in San Diego and was invited to party with some young men whom she met on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. Taken to an apartment, she met other young girls who encouraged her to dress up in sexy clothing, which they provided. They took pictures of her and created a website on MySpace. The next week she received a call from her new friends, who invited her over again. She was not allowed to leave and was trafficked for more than three years.

The trafficking of human beings is an immense crisis. I’ve only described one aspect of human trafficking so far. Human trafficking also includes holding migrant workers against their will and children in detention centers for unaccompanied minors. All of this adds up to a gross violation of several of our baptismal vows: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  In the same way that abolitionists, motivated by faith, rebuked the practice of slavery, so today’s church, to be true to its profession, must engage this issue and seek to defeat the evil of human trafficking in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Cn. Mary Moreno Richardson serves as chaplain for victims of trafficking and children held at a detention center for undocumented minors.