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Even one case of sex trafficking is too much for community

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Sex trafficking and Placer County.

Many residents say the two don’t go together. They say that trafficking is nonexistent here. They think that it only occurs in areas with inner cities, such as Sacramento or San Francisco, on some shabby street corner.

With that kind of thinking, our youth here can’t be victims of this crime since Placer County is safe from sex trafficking.

Unfortunately, that’s not true.

Sex trafficking “absolutely happens in Placer County,” according to Stand Up Placer’s Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director Jenny Davidson.

The nonprofit Stand Up Placer organization empowers survivors and educates communities to stand up to domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Since April 2016, Stand Up Placer was designated by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services as a human-trafficking victim service agency.

“In 2015, we started noticing a lot of people who came here for domestic violence and sexual assault issues were really being sex trafficked. They might say their boyfriends beat them up,” Davidson said this week, “and we treated it as domestic violence, but the more we talked to them, we learned it was trafficking. A boyfriend was trafficking her and then beating her up if she said she was going to tell someone.”

In 2015, Stand Up Placer assisted 10 victims of sex trafficking. Assistance included counseling, case management, crisis intervention services and long-term supportive services.

In 2017, Stand Up Placer assisted 141 victims.

That’s 14 times more victims in a two-year period.

The real number of victims is much higher, because victims are scared that their “boyfriends” or traffickers will kill them or hurt their families if they walk away. Victims also believe that the trafficker is the only one who loves them because they have been brainwashed to think that way.

Most of the 141 victims in 2017 were between the ages of 16 and 24 but we’ve had victims younger and older,” Davidson said.

All children in Placer County are at risk, according to Placer County Office of Education executive director of student services Susan Connolly.

“Everyone in our community needs to be concerned. It happens at all ages,” Connolly said. “Our information tells us that middle school students, ages 11, 12 and 13; start getting groomed. That’s where we want to do prevention awareness. By high school, it’s too late. The progression has already happened.”

Grooming can be by someone reaching out on social media or by someone telling a younger girl that she’s cute. This grooming, or recruiting, happens every day in Placer County through the Internet, parties, wherever youth hang out with non-adult supervision. Vulnerable youth, we’re talking tweens who are still children after all, often become victims this way.

“People have the idea that sex traffickers are bringing them from other countries or the victims are being sent to other countries,” Davidson said. “But we’ve found that local people are being trafficked by local people.”

The number of victims is increasing because criminals who previously trafficked in guns and drugs find it’s less challenging to traffic in humans, according to Davidson. If law enforcement finds someone with drugs or guns, it’s easier to arrest that person. If police talk to a trafficker and his victim is there, she might be too scared or brainwashed to say she needs help.

Plus, as Davidson pointed out, penalties for those who buy sex isn’t stiff enough. The buyers are typically middle- to upper-class white men in Placer County.

“Human traffickers have found that they just need to find one vulnerable person who can be raped and sold 10 to 20 times a night,” Davidson said. “The victim becomes a renewable source.”

Trafficking will continue to increase throughout Placer County unless the whole community works together on solutions. The Lincoln News Messenger will kick off a month-long series next week on the subject to raise awareness and show what some organizations are doing to combat this crime.

All of us can help stop human trafficking from growing here.

Let’s adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sex trafficking. Together, we can protect the more vulnerable of us from becoming victims. If we all don’t try to curb trafficking, we’re part of the problem.