Living in Conejo Valley, most residents may feel removed from the crisis of child sex trafficking, and thus do not feel the need to educate themselves on one of the largest illegal industries in the world. However, Forever Found, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending child trafficking, began ten years ago and has been a significant presence in Conejo Valley and Ventura County.
Ending this crisis begins with awareness, so here are seven truths that everyone should learn.
1. Trafficking can and does happen everywhere. Sex trafficking was at first thought to be a problem overseas, but in 2017, the United States reported child trafficking in every single state. While it may be a larger problem in big cities or in lower-income areas, trafficking also takes place in small towns and upper-class suburbs.
2. By U.S. law, youths never are able to choose to be in the sex industry. Even if the child is not coerced or forced to have sex, an underage male or female is still considered trafficked. It is an illegal, criminal offense.
3. Traffickers and their victims often know each other. While sometimes children are abducted, particularly from other countries, traffickers often spend time preying on youth through social media and other websites, as well as in malls and other places where kids hang out. They will flatter, encourage, and befriend them, getting the youth to trust them. Cases also exist where family members will sell or exploit their younger relatives.
4. Both boys and girls are trafficked in the sex industry. While right now more girls than boys are exploited, there is a growing number of young males who are being coerced into the industry. Boys and young men are also less likely to report abuse or reach out for help, so the numbers are likely larger than reported.
5. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2018 alone, more than 3,000 survivors, 1,000 traffickers, and 550 trafficking businesses were identified in California. Out of the 1656 trafficking cases in California, 1226 of those cases were in the sex industry.
6. Underage victims caught up in sex trafficking will often not reach out for help. They do not consider themselves victims because of prior abuse and are not aware that they have been exploited. They also fear their traffickers and the potential negative consequences of trying to leave the situation.
7. The term “prostitution” should never be used to describe any underage person caught in the sex industry. By Merriam-Webster’s definition, “prostitution” is the act or practice of engaging in promiscuous sexual relations, especially for money. It includes nothing about being exploited or forced, which is how the law defines human trafficking.
Forever Found works with school and police authorities to educate them on this growing crisis that has been getting more attention worldwide. The team also serves victims directly, whether they are living at home, in foster housing, or in juvenile facilities.
To find out more about Forever Found, please visit their website at www.foreverfound.org.
Written by Amy Downing, Forever Found volunteer