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Saving Trafficked Lives
By Doug Keeler
Midway Driller Editor
Tuesday, August 18th
Taft Midway Driller
Most people think it's something that happens in a far distant land, or if it happens in the United States, to foreign nationals. That's true, but it's only a small part of the truth.
Human trafficking, involuntary servitude, or just plain slavery, is about people being held under force or fear, forced to work as prostitutes, in the sex trade, or just forced to do things for others, often in the substandard condition for substandard pay. It's closer to home than you might want to imagine, and it's very common as close as Bakersfield's Union Avenue.
There are ongoing efforts to free the victims of trafficking, and the rescuers are now finding support from the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. A major campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking in the region is underway, and Taft is in the middle of it.
Taft is going to be the start of the 750-mile Tour Against Trafficking, a fundraising two-week bike ride in October. Last week, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church hosted a human trafficking summit.
The Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking was there, taking part in a panel discussion that included a filmmaker, the founder and president of Magdalene Hope, a refuge for women victimized by human traffickers, and the program director for Magdalene Hope and Restoration Ranch.
Human trafficking affects citizens, hitting closer to home than you might think, as well as foreign nationals. Young girls are often lured into the sex trade, often prostitution, and end up far from home, being kept under lock and key or under constant watch by the traffickers.
Phil Gazley from the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking ,Doug Bennett, founder of Magdalene Hope, and Angelica Lostaunau, who was rescued by Bennett and now counsels other victims, talked about the problem, how to spot it, and what to do about it.
The biggest myth, he said, is that human trafficking is "everywhere but where you are."
"It's a bigger issue with our own citizens, our own residents, than it is with foreign nationals," he said.
What are the signs?
Teenage girls with boyfriends much older than themselves, often wearing expensive clothing or jewelry far beyond what they could normally afford. Young women who don't leave their homes except when being watched or supervised are often victims.
Women are prostituted on the streets, or sometimes girls are sent to solicit sex from truckers in the rigs at truck stops.
How Does it Happen?
It doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes it starts when children are sold for sex by their parents. Often, the victims are drug addicts. That makes Taft, like any other community with a meth problem, a target area.
"Anytime you have meth or drug problems, you're going to have human trafficking," said producer of The Trafficked Life documentary, Michael Fagens. Just as often, they come from broken homes and other dysfunctional families.
"Every woman has a personal history," Gazley said. "There is a a reason why she is selling herself. No woman wakes up one day and says, 'I want to prostitute myself."
Bennett, the founder of president of Magdalene Hope, located at an undisclosed location in the Tehachapi Mountains, is on the front lines, rescuing women on the street. He has a suggestion to families to keep their daughters from being vulnerable to the sex trade or human traffickers: Let them know that they are loved.
"If you're a father, if you're a grandfather, spend some time with her so when she's 13 or 14 she won't go looking for love with a man that she didn't get from you," Bennett said. "Let her know how valued she is, how loved she is."
Lostaunau finally found the love she needed at Magdalene Hope.
"The only thing thatkeeps me going is Jesus," she said. "Everyday I wake up and I thank God for giving me a new life.
She isn't leaving Magdalene Hope. She just received a bachelor's degree in Christian Counseling from Summit University and is now program director at the facility, and helps other women deal with what she did.
Magdalene Hope helps up to seven women at a time, and includes women who are trying to leave the sex industry as well.
The evening started with Fagans' film, The Trafficked Life, a graphic tale of the effects of trafficking told by the victims, and the story of Magdalene Hope.
Fagans, Bennett and The Right Reverend David Rice, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, are all planning to ride in the Tour Against Trafficking, a bicycle ride to raise awareness about the problem and to raise money to help Bennett and others who are in the front lines of the battle to to save victims.
The bike ride starts in Taft on October 2nd with a 35-mile leg to Bakersfield. Find out more about the ride at http://www.touragainsttrafficking.org/
If you witness something that makes you think someone is being victimized by human traffickers, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737.
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