By Charles Kaupke     11/17/2016

What do you know about human trafficking? For many of us, our perception of trafficking comes from rumors we hear, or movies we see that portray it. Sadly, the realities of human trafficking – its nature, pervasiveness, and effects on its victims – are largely unknown. Without knowledge and education on the part of the public, the problem of trafficking will not go away on its own.

With this in mind, the Diocese of Orange Office of Life, Justice and Peace hosted a Human Trafficking Conference at St. Hedwig’s Church in Los Alamitos on Oct. 29.

Conference attendees heard testimony from Jolene, a sex-trafficking survivor, who related how she was deceived by a trafficker and swept into a life of prostitution as a young teenager. Without the necessary help from her family, Jolene endured being trafficked for years before she was able to tell the police her story and begin to receive the assistance she needed to escape that life. Trafficking victims never want the lifestyle they are forced into. “No little girl dreams to grow up and be a prostitute,” she says.

Sex trafficking is a significant threat for young people across the globe, and the United States is no exception. Veronica Stephens of the Action Force Network spoke on the special danger it poses to young Americans: 100,000 trafficking victims are under the age of 18. The most common victims are young girls who have no fathers or other male figures to raise them with the encouragement, affirmation and love that they deserve as children of God. Young women with fathers to instill confidence and self-esteem are less likely to be victims of trafficking.

In addition, it is not only low-income neighborhoods that experience trafficking. Susan Patterson, author of “How You Can Fight Human Trafficking,” told conference attendees that because traffickers are in it for money, trafficking is common even in wealthier cities such as Newport Beach and Irvine.

Much more prevalent than sex trafficking, although perhaps less talked about, is labor trafficking. Victims are forced to work grueling hours for little pay in hazardous and unsafe working conditions. While this problem is not as common in the United States, it is very much a reality for many living in third-world countries. Two-thirds of all human trafficking worldwide is for the purpose of labor.

What can be done to combat trafficking? One easy step is for parents to install privacy settings on their children’s electronic devices. Increased privacy software makes it harder for traffickers to find potential victims. Another important element is school education.

Stephens says, “We have to get into the schools. We have to educate the children on healthy relationships. It ends up being this huge ripple effect.”

Jolene believes that task forces are crucial for helping victims: “Organizations are developing that are bringing awareness. Rather than arresting girls, they’re given resources.” There are also resources to help combat labor trafficking, such as the Ethical Barcode app, which identifies slave-produced goods for consumers to boycott. In addition, Corrine St. Thomas of the Orange County Human Trafficking Taskforce informed attendees about the up-to-date resources that authorities use for identifying traffickers and rescuing victims.

The takeaway message from the conference was simple and encouraging: with the right education and the best resources, we can work together to end human trafficking.