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Presentation offers disturbing facts about human trafficking

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Tears rushed down Angel Ortega’s face as thoughts of her younger cousin raced to her mind. As Suzanne Schultz, who presented on campus on the evening of May 10, mentioned Stockton’s Backpage, the junior started to remember how close this topic hit home.

Ortega’s cousin, like many sex workers, was posted in her undergarments, advertised like an item on Craigslist. Instead of getting her nails done and shopping at the mall like a typical 14 year-old girl, the girl was was one of the many adolescents pulled into the world of human trafficking.

Ortega’s cousin is not alone. There are about 15,000 human trafficking victims in the United States and 25 million in the world. With such massive numbers, human trafficking has grown into a multibillion dollar business.

Stockton’s Backpage was one of the main sources that allowed human trafficking to become prominent in the community. “Even though Backpage was recently ceased by the F.B.I. there are so many more websites that can be used to list them up to sell them,” Schultz said.

As chair of the education and outreach work group for Women’s Center Youth & Family Services for San Joaquin County, Schultz takes pride in leading a group of professionals she works with for several disciplines to raise awareness in the community. “I’ve been a public servant working with victims of crime for 33 years.” She has been specifically helping victims of domestic violence and human trafficking for 15 years. Her passion stems from her natural empathy. “It breaks my heart to see people go through stuff like this,” Schultz said.

“Knowing that I can help victims turn their life around from getting back their education and self-esteem to making sure they know their value as a human being motivates me everyday.”

Junior Jennifer Lopez was one of the many students shocked about the information presented. “I didn’t know that it was happening to people in Stockton. It’s an eye-opener.”

During the presentation the story of “Lisa” was told. The story contained graphic and educational lessons of what she endured after becoming a victim of human trafficking for over 20 years. Lisa and her younger sister lived with an absent mother. Once the word got around that she was home alone for weeks at a time a predator saw an opportunity. Little did Lisa know that at the age of 9 she would be one of the 15,000 targets. Over the course of 20 years in the industry she would perform 146,000 sexual acts.

Manipulation plays a significant role in human trafficking. Many of the victims don’t voluntarily choose to be “in the life” or to “walk the blade.” Once approached at a young age adolescents are more likely to become persuaded. Before a pimp actually makes a victim perform sexual acts on paying customers, they exploit their victim’s weak spots. By finding their vulnerable state, they are able to take control of the impressionable.

Human trafficking involves three stages: recruitment, persuasion and the favor. Recruitment is when sex traffickers are targeted. These “tricks” are picked based off what the client craves, including various nationalities. Next is persuasion, the stage when one’s pimp showers their victim with what they desire. Finally comes the favor. This is when the sex trafficker has built a trusting relationship with their manipulator. After being asked to perform sexual acts as a “favor,” the victim is then placed into the industry and stuck between the fear of escaping with nowhere to go and the fear of staying and selling their soul.

“Is Your Soul For Sale?” is the title and main message from the presentation. When these human trafficking victims are sold to perform these degrading acts against their will it mentally and physically breaks them down.

But there is still hope. Many programs offer help. Safe Place is a national youth outreach prevention program that is connected with major corporations like San Joaquin Regional Transit District and McDonald’s. Those who feel they need help may board any RTD or walk into any McDonald’s and notify a worker for help. They may also text the word “safe” and their current street, name, and state to: 69866 to get to a safe place.

If you are or know of a victim, the resources are out there and it is never too late to reach out and get help.

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