It has been 150 years since the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, yet even in modern day Orange County, the practice continues in the form of human sex and labor trafficking.
The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force was created in 2004 to respond to an increasing trend of sex trafficking found within the Orange County area, and since its inception it has helped hundreds of victims by providing them with shelter as well as medicinal, legal, social and educational aid.
The Task Force recruits volunteers into its program on a quarterly basis, the next volunteer orientation will fall on April 21.
Lihn Tran is the administrator of the task force, who speaks on the primary goals of the program: protection, assistance and prevention through cooperation between law enforcement, community groups and volunteers.
Girls, women and men become victims of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, every year—although these victims have suffered greatly, the community they live in can protect and nurture them through responsible volunteerism.
“Our individual success of each agency is amplified because we do it together,” Tran said.
This cooperation among various agencies and community groups gives the task force greater flexibility to address the needs of victims—who are predominantly female Americans.
“Most of our American victims have been homeless at some point, and they were recruited into the life (of sex trafficking) by someone that they actually knew,” Tran said. “It is amplified when they are running away from home, out in the streets, for them to be targeted.”
Victims out on the street may be approached by pimps and recruited into the life without previously knowing the perpetrator, but often a more protracted grooming process occurs.
“The majority (of perpetrators) have been your so called ‘romeo pimps,’ who start off as a girlfriend/boyfriend scenario,” Tran said. “The victim thought it was a boyfriend/girlfriend scenario not knowing he (the perp) was not actually a pimp and as part of the grooming process he’ll eventually pimp her out at some point.”
The advancements of social media have given sex traffickers new methods to reach out to potential victims, but new laws have been passed to combat the solicitation of victims into sex trafficking.
“There is a change in the law, a California specific law, that if you (pimps) try to recruit a minor to be involved in prostitution, and she hasn’t even done anything yet, you (pimps) can actually be convicted to five years minimum prison time,” Tran said.
While the law may becoming increasingly more severe for human traffickers, it can only reach so far—volunteers working for the task force can fill this void by spreading awareness of the issue and bringing their unique skills to help victims regain normal lives.
Jennifer Juarez is the volunteer coordinator for the task force, she’s an arm of the task force that utilizes volunteers for a wide variety of tasks that adapt to the changing needs of victims, who are often minors between the age of 12 to 14 years old.
“With our volunteer program, it looks different every single month,” Juarez said. “Our program really depends on the need, our clientele, the season, and what’s going on that month for the task force.”
As summer nears, the task force is preparing to open a booth at the Orange County Fair to help raise awareness about local human trafficking, and how people can get involved.
Spreading awareness is a critical part of the volunteer program. Juarez also encourages creative thinking when it comes to victim services.
One such program is headed by Melissa Grace Hoon, a volunteer who helps victims deal with the crisis they experienced through introspective journaling paired with meditation.
“Introspection is a huge part of any recovery process,” Hoon said. “You’ve taken on so much that isn’t really yours. So what writing does is it helps you identify what is not yours so that you’re able to let it go and in doing that your true self will also begin to emerge.”
Hoon’s contribution to the volunteer program is a creative response to trauma, but there is always room for more innovation.
Prospective volunteers need to RSVP before attending the volunteer orientation on April 21—the information can be found on the events calendar of the task force website.