Funded by the U.S. Department of Home Security Transit Security Grant Program
"Be the one to help out" is a request to all OCTA bus riders to be proactive and look out for one another. You are often the first to notice when something doesn't seem right. When it comes to the crime of human trafficking, the simple act of letting our driver know or calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline might rescue someone from what is considered modern day slavery.
Most people have preconceived notions regarding human trafficking here in Orange County. However, the reality may surprise you. In order to "be the one" to spot a potential victim, you have to know the truth about human trafficking in Orange County.
The stories are heart-wrenching. Fortunately, first responders and community service providers assisting victims in Orange County are making a difference. The following interviews and stories are from those directly involved. Please view, listen, and read. What they are telling you will help bring clarity to the problem, how it is being addressed, why OCTA is involved, and most importantly…the of the results when people care.
Imagine being born into a large, poverty-stricken family in another country, and then being sold into domestic servitude at the tender age of seven. Imagine feeling abandoned by your own family – the anger and hurt, compounded by desperation from many years of mistreatment by the family who enslaved her. Imagine being denied an education and a childhood, personal freedom, and basic human dignity. That was Shari’s story.
Forced to cook, clean, and care for a large, extended family, Shari was forced to wear ragged clothing, subsist on table scraps, and sleep on the floor. She was not allowed to leave the house, except to take out, and then bring in, the garbage cans, and to accompany the family to their store, where she worked for them.
Every moment of every day was filled with anger and bitterness, wondering how her parents could have done this to her – until the day when a vendor who had a booth at her captor’s store made eye contact with her and smiled at her. Trained to keep her eyes cast down, Shari had to lift her head to meet the woman’s gaze. It was a revelation – for the first time in her life that she could remember, Shari thought to herself, “someone actually cares about me!’
Every moment of every day was filled with anger and bitterness….until the day when a vendor made eye contact with her and smiled at her... for the first time in her life that she could remember, Shari thought to herself, “someone actually cares about me!’
In subsequent days and months, the woman smiled at her and said hello, and then made small talk with her. Although Shari didn’t speak much English, she understood most of what the woman said, but language difficulties, and more importantly, fear of telling her the truth, kept Shari from answering with much more than a nod or shake of her head or a facial expression. Shari was empowered by these simple acts of human kindness, daring to believe that maybe there was a chance for her of a better life. The woman asked her why she wasn’t spending time with her friends instead of working at the store, sent her small gifts such as make-up (although her captors never gave them to her), and, one day, surreptitiously passed her a slip of paper with the woman’s name and telephone number, and the message that if Shari wanted help, she should call her.
Shari continued to see the woman at the store, but she held onto the slip of paper for a year before she dared to take advantage of the woman’s kind offer. One day, when feelings of desperation swelled up so strongly that she felt as if she couldn’t stand it anymore, Shari sneaked into the back of the store and called the woman to ask for help. The woman told her that at the day and time when Shari normally took the garbage out to the curb, she and her husband would drive by, that Shari should jump in the car, and that she would take Shari to their house, away from her captors. When the day came, Shari, dressed in ragged clothing without shoes, completed her evening duties with her usual blank expression, but deep inside, she felt nervous and scared, waiting for the time when she normally took out the garbage, and hoping that nothing would happen to interfere with her chance to escape. When the time came, she took out the garbage, watered the plants, and then, when she saw the woman’s car, ran as fast as she possibly could, without looking behind her, and jumped in the car. The car quickly sped away, taking Shari to her new life of freedom.
Shari had to answer to law enforcement and immigration officials, and the media was soon filled with stories about her alleged kidnapping, but the woman and her husband treated her with kindness and dignity. Shari was in awe of the new world that was opening up to her – nobody had ever shown a personal interest in her, let alone cooking for her, or taking her to the department store to buy her new clothes. She had her own bedroom, a pink fairyland, with a wonderful, comfortable bed. The next morning, she slept late for the first time in her life.
Although Shari had a lot to learn – the English language, American social customs, how to use money, and more importantly, how to trust people, she has savored every moment of her freedom. With the help of Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force victim service providers and other kind individuals, she eventually learned how to survive on her own.
“Jackie” is a young Latin American woman who had recently immigrated with her young child to Orange County from her native land, seeking employment opportunities to support her child as well as her family back home, when she came across an advertisement in a local newspaper for a massage therapist. The advertisement stated that the candidate that was hired would be trained for the position. The job interview was to take place in a hotel, which didn’t sound quite right to her, but it seemed to be an ideal opportunity to earn income while improving her occupational skills, and since she was new tothis country and unfamiliar with American job interview customs, she decided to go to the interview anyhow.
The person who interviewed her, who turned out to be her pimp and trafficker, kept all of the money that Jackie received, and controlled all of Jackie’s movements – in other words, she seized control of Jackie’s life.
Sadly, although Jackie innocently thought that the advertisement was seeking a professional who provided therapeutic massages as part of the medical healing process, she found out after giving them her personal information that she had unwittingly become the victim of sex trafficking, forced to provide services in a hotel room to men, in exchange for money, day after day. The person who interviewed her, who turned out to be her pimp and trafficker, kept all of the money that Jackie received, and controlled all of Jackie’s movements – in other words, she seized control of Jackie’s life. She told Jackie that if she tried to escape, they would use the personal information she had given them to find and kill her family.
Although current California law limits the use of the term “massage therapist” to a person defined by the law as a “healing arts professional,” most people are not aware of this. Every year, many innocent, well-intentioned victims fall prey to human traffickers who deceptively advertise positions such as “massage therapists,” “models,” and “hostesses,” tricking eager young applicants into becoming sex trafficking victims.
Fortunately, a few months later, Jackie was freed during an undercover law enforcement investigation of the establishment at which she worked. She was frightened at first, not understanding that the people trying to help her were plain-clothes police officers, but when they allowed her to call her family, she realized that she could trust them.
Today, with the help of a strong support system, Jackie is enjoying her life. Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force victim service providers helped her to adjust to her new-found freedom, and to receive her T-visa, which allows her to remain in the country and work legally. She is working full time, and savoring every moment of her freedom.
Although the thought of leaving his family tore him apart emotionally, he reasoned that if he took the job and worked for just two years, he could then send money home during his absence, and return home with enough savings to make his family more financially comfortable for a long time to come. So, he took the job.
Antonio did not realize that he had become the victim of the type of labor trafficking known as debt bondage…His only choice was to try in vain to work off his debts
When Antonio accepted the job, he thought that he would be employed full time, so when he arrived at his new place of employment, a large hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, he was very dismayed to learn that since it was the “off season” for tourists, the hotel had a low occupancy rate, and so they initially only gave him work only two days per week. In addition, after paying the very high fee charged by the employment agency, when he arrived at the hotel, he was told that he was required to pay for the cost of his transportation to the U.S., as well as the immigration visa fees (something normally paid by the employer), his apartment rent, and most of his meals. His employer forced him to live in a small, cramped apartment they had selected, which he had to share with three other hotel workers. As he soon found out, his employer was profiting from the substandard conditions in which they forced him to live, because they were charging him twice what the apartment landlord normally received for the same unit. In addition, his apartment was several miles from the hotel, and public transit was not available during the hours he needed it, so he had to walk back and forth to work, very early in the morning and late at night, in all weather conditions. He was free to come and go as he pleased while not at work, but he found it difficult to enjoy the time because it interfered with his purpose for taking the job, which was to earn and send as much money home as possible, and his living expenses left him little to no money for nonessential expenditures.
Antonio did not realize that he had become the victim of the type of labor trafficking known as debt bondage. The employment agency did not ask for his approval when they deducted from his paycheck the cost of his transportation to the U.S., his room and board, and the fees associated with the necessary immigration documents. As a result, he found himself in debt. His meager salary was not sufficient to reimburse his employer for the cost of transportation to the U.S. and his visa, let alone the costs of room and board that continued to accrue. His only choice was to try in vain to work off his debts.
Antonio felt at that time that there was nothing he could do to escape or improve his situation until his contract expired. His employer lied to him, telling him that if he took a second job, or if he was fired from, or quit his existing job, he would violate the terms of his immigration visa, which would put him at risk of being deported. His employer also threatened to report him to immigration officials if he took a second job. Antonio realized that he only had one option. If he left his job, he would lose his immigration visa status, and would have to pay for transportation back to his country, which he could not afford. Therefore, he sadly resigned himself to completing the seven-month term of his contract. Antonio and his roommates formed a close bond as they worked together to stretch their meager incomes, and came to depend on each other for emotional support.
Antonio sadly realized that coming to the U.S. as a temporary worker in a debt bondage arrangement is not the same as living here permanently.
A few months later, during the hotel’s “high season,” Antonio’s work load increased to thirteen hours per day. He was required to work eight hours per day cleaning ten “casitas,” the equivalent of ten small houses, and then to work as a banquet server for five hours each night. While he was very glad to be earning more money, his employer cheated him out of some of the money he earned by not giving him overtime pay, although it was legally required. He was always exhausted due to the long days, compounded by the necessity to walk long distances to and from work very early in the morning and late at night, his substandard living conditions, and a lack of healthy food because he and his roommates could not afford to buy it.
Antonio sadly realized that coming to the U.S. as a temporary worker in a debt bondage arrangement is not the same as living here permanently. At that time, although he knew that he was being taken advantage of by his employer in many ways, he did not realize that he was a victim of labor trafficking. He considered asking for help, but he knew he couldn’t appeal to the employment agency or the hotel management, and he didn’t really know his only American relative, who lived on the other side of the country, so he tried to make the best of his situation.
After seven months, his contract expired. He thought that he had the option to return home, but realized that his employer would not pay for his transportation home. In addition, his employer threatened to report him to immigration officials if he didn't renew his contract, since his visa would expire. Antonio could not afford to pay the cost of transportation home, and was afraid to risk deportation, so he resignedly signed up for another seven months, but this time at a hotel in Orange County, California. Although the employment agency charged him an inflated fee for renewing his immigration papers, and he dearly missed his family, he still hoped to complete the two year work commitment he had made to himself and his family. The only thing that changed was the location of the hotel – his expenses were still being unfairly deducted from his earnings, and his living conditions were still substandard.
When the second contract expired, Antonio decided that he needed to find a better situation. He believed that if he didn’t renew his contract, he risked deportation, but his hopes for a better life motivated him to take a chance and look for a new job in the U.S. A referral from a friend led to a job as a care taker in an assisted living facility in Los Angeles. The job included room and board plus a small amount of income, and he felt that he was doing something worthwhile, but he became an undocumented worker because the company refused to help him when he tried to apply for the necessary immigration papers. Fortunately, around that time, he was identified as a labor trafficking victim, which enabled him to apply for and receive a T Visa which would allow him to legally live and work in the U.S.
With the help of a large support network of community service providers, he found another job as a care taker, and applied for and received his T Visa. Sadly, he knew that it would be many years before he could legally return home to his native country, even for a visit. Due to this, Antonio was unable to visit his parents, whom he missed very much, but, with the help of community service providers, he was soon able to realize his dream of providing a better life for his children by bringing them to the U.S. to live with him.
Today, Antonio is enjoying his life. He remains in touch with his former roommates, who have become his good friends. He cherishes having his daughters with him, hopes to attending nursing school, and, as he wryly commented, looks forward to visiting that iconic American landmark, the Grand Canyon.
Reality: While the majority (but not all) of the sex trafficking victims in Orange County are teenage girls or young women, labor trafficking includes people of all ages and of both sexes.
Reality: Human trafficking in Orange County includes both sex and labor trafficking. Labor trafficking victims often work as domestics (maids and child care), in factories, as agricultural workers, and in personal care (ranging from nursing homes to nail salons). They are more difficult to identify because they may appear to be working in legitimate jobs, and may be working side by side with legitimate employees.
Reality: Most sex trafficking victims in Orange County are U.S. citizens, although some are from other states. Sex traffickers (pimps) often move their victims from city to city, or state to state, in order to control them – to keep them from becoming familiar with their locations, or forming new relationships, that could help them to escape. The federal legal definition of human trafficking includes all victims, regardless of citizenship status or country of origin.
Reality: Human trafficking is found throughout Orange County.
While some sex trafficking victims are forced to solicit “dates” on street corners, many are forced to sell their bodies for sex in hotel rooms, and others are marketed by their pimps using the Internet. According to Orange County law enforcement, sex trafficking is found throughout the county – in both North County and South County, from the wealthiest to the poorest communities.
Likewise, labor trafficking is found throughout Orange County. Many labor trafficking victim work in wealthier neighborhoods, where people are more likely to have live-in maids and nannies. Their neighbors are less likely to be suspicious about a live-in domestic worker than in poorer neighborhoods. On the other hand, many human trafficking victims are forced to work in factories or agricultural fields, which are clustered in specific parts of the county. Still other types of businesses at which labor trafficking victims may be forced work, such as hotels, nursing homes and assisted living care facilities, and personal care services such as nail salons, are found throughout the county, in residential communities of all income levels.
Reality: Human traffickers control their victims in many ways. Although some victims are not free to come and go as they please, and some traffickers such as “guerilla” pimps may use violence against their victims as a means of coercion, many human traffickers use other, less obvious means to control their victims.
Some traffickers employ psychological means of control. They belittle the victims to destroy their self-esteem and resistance to being controlled. They may threaten to harm the victim’s family if they try to escape or lie to authorities regarding the victim’s legal status or well-being. They take away the victim’s identification papers (such as a driver’s license or passport), and don’t allow the victim to make eye contact with, or speak to, other people.
Other traffickers use financial means of control, such as debt bondage, in which a victim accepts what appears to be a legitimate job, only to find out afterwards that they will receive much lower wages than they were promised, and that they will receive very little (if any) of those wages. Victims are forced to accept a situation in which their “employers” deduct their living expenses (which may be inflated by the trafficker) from their “paycheck.” Traffickers manipulate and control the terms of any “contracts” to which the victims initially agreed. For instance, victims may be forced them to perform different job duties than they had been promised or work long hours without any time off, and traffickers may extend the term of the contract – sometimes indefinitely – without consulting the victim.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, a type of injustice that violates basic human rights. Initially viewed as a victimless crime, it is now recognized as multiple types of long-term involuntary servitude for purposes of providing sex or labor, forced upon a defenseless individual, usually a woman or child, using fraud, force, and/or coercion. The term “trafficking” is deceptive because a person need not be transported to another location in order to become a victim of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, attracting transnational and domestic criminal organizations because it is becoming more financially lucrative in many cases than the international drug trade or other illegal activities. Several billion dollars per year are generated by victimizing millions of people around the world. It is especially contemptible and inhumane because it inflicts harm upon another human being–stealing their dignity, causing bodily injury, and taking away their freedom–for the sole purpose of the financial gain of criminals.
Social scientists estimate that globally, as many as 27 million men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking at any one time, but only 40,000 victims were identified last year. This is a crime that occurs in the shadows, out of the view and reach of law enforcement. Human traffickers prey on the poor, the homeless, ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, migrant workers, undocumented immigrants, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized populations reluctant to seek assistance from the government or other organizations.
The U.S. is one of the top destination countries for human trafficking, and California is one of the four top destination states in the country. Human traffickers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and organized. New tools, such as social media, are making it easier to attract potential victims, facilitate the crime, and evade law enforcement. Despite the best efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement and other government agencies, nonprofit organizations providing services to victims and their families, faith-based organizations, and concerned families and grassroots organizations, human trafficking has increased significantly in California since 2007, and the total number of victims is increasing.
Human traffickers forcibly take total control of every aspect of the victim’s life, maintaining control over their victims through violence and coercion. Victims are subject to continuing, severe psychological and physical abuse of many types at the hands of those who hold them hostage, and believe that the outside world does not see them, or does not care about them. Traffickers control their victims by instilling fear in them as well as gratitude for being allowed to live, and encourage their victims to believe that they cannot trust anyone except the trafficker, especially persons in positions of authority such as law enforcement and health professionals.
Victims feel a sense of grief, shame, and self-hatred, and suffer from disorders such as insomnia, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even attempted suicide. In addition, victims are at high risk for injuries associated with physical abuse such as broken bones and concussions, burns, and injuries to internal organs, traumatic brain injury, sexually transmitted diseases as well as other diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, or pneumonia, diseases associated with malnutrition, forced or coerced abortions or miscarriages, and sterility.
For more information Additional insight into the problem can be found at these links.
Orange County Human Trafficking Task ForceCalifornia Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Home Page
The vast majority are adult (age 18 and over) females, although males are also victimized by human traffickers. Most are victims of sex trafficking, but approximately sixteen percent are victims of labor trafficking, or of a combination of labor and sex trafficking. Over half of the victims in Orange County are U.S. residents. The rest are foreign nationals, primarily from Mexico, the United Kingdom, Asia (Philippines, China, South Korea, North Korea, and Vietnam), Iran, and Kenya.
Human trafficking is found in many industries, especially:
Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that 28 percent* of human trafficking victims in Orange County are children, all of whom are engaged in sex trafficking. The data indicates that child victims are more likely to be forced into sex trafficking than are adult victims.
Traffickers find young people through telephone chat lines, at clubs, on the street through friends, and at malls, and may use girls to recruit other girls at schools and after-school programs, or involve school age boys in gaining and betraying the trust of potential victims.
Victims may begin by working in bars or strip clubs, sometimes voluntarily and then be forced into full-fledged prostitution or pornography. The average age of entry into the commercial sex trade is 12 to 14 years old, although some victims are younger.
Most victims will not identify themselves as such, due to fear of retribution from the trafficker, distrust of outsiders, or shame. Some do not understand that they are victims of a crime because of a lack of education or awareness of their rights, or because traffickers make them believe that they are to blame for their circumstances. In other cases, the victim begins to depend on the trafficker and views the trafficker as her protector or boyfriend, and ceases to see herself as a victim or the trafficker as a criminal.
What are the typical signs of human trafficking?Experts have identified some key characteristics of human trafficking. Learn more by selecting the specific area below.
Signs to look for in a victim’s personal appearance Someone’s personal appearance may seem very unusual or inappropriate, especially for their age or social class, or may suggest injuries or poor health:
Look for behaviors that are unusual or inappropriate and cannot be explained, make it appear that the person is trying to hide facts about their life, or that suggest that their lives are being inappropriately controlled by another person.
Signs to look for in children
Signs to look for in adults
Inappropriate working and living conditions
*2013 Human Trafficking Victim Report from the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
Look around you–on the bus, in your workplace, at school, in the shopping mall, or anywhere else that people gather–there might be someone nearby who desperately needs your help.
If you notice something about a person that appears unusual or inappropriate, don’t ignore it. Immediately report the situation to the appropriate law enforcement official, social worker, or other professional, or contact a victim assistance organization. Do not try to intervene, as you may be inadvertently exposing yourself or the victim to violence on the part of the trafficker.
If a victim approaches you to confide in you or ask for help, be an active listener. It may take a long time, perhaps several conversations, before a victim may begin to trust you. You can create an emotionally safe environment if you listen quietly and without judgment, allowing the victim to tell you their story at their own pace and in their own way. Do not question inconsistencies or try to obtain more information.
More than anything else, human trafficking victims need to know that someone cares enough about them to help them to escape the bonds of human slavery. Be the One that cares…and helps.
If you want to report a potential human trafficking situation, please do it safely. Here are the three best ways.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline 1-888-373-7888
Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, Community Service Programs Victim Assistance 1-949-250-4058
The Salvation Army-Network of Emergency Trafficking Services 1-714-783-2338
U.S. Department of Justice Hotline 1-888-428-7581
91 Express Lanes
OCTA Administrative Office
550 S. Main StreetOrange, CA 92868