By Judy Salamacha
For Bonnie Jones, advocacy for human trafficking victims and survivors is personal.
“Why I am involved,” she says, “is because I lived in a storybook world — 53-years of marriage, three kids, eight grandchildren — life was wonderful, until it wasn’t. I found out my 11-year-old granddaughter was being trafficked via the Internet.”
As co-coordinator of the first “Human Trafficking Summit” in SLO County, she believes in the national mantra, “If you see something say something,” but first, one needs to admit it exists and then become aware of the signs and not be afraid to report it to authorities.
Based on a 2015 study by the University of San Diego, human sex trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., and California has the highest incidence of any State.
In 2013, sex trafficking generated $810 million just in San Diego County. The average age is 12-16. It is also confirmed 70% are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, 70% of sex-trafficking sales begin online with over 125,000 persons sold daily.
SLO County has been actively doing something about it since District Attorney Dan Dow created the “SLO County Human Trafficking Task Force” soon after he was elected in 2014.
He continues to chair the task force as others step up to create programs, including the City of Morro Bay, Rotarians, community members and businesses that offer a day of awareness training at the Morro Bay Community Center hosted by Morro Bay Police Cmdr. Jody Cox (now acting police chief) and Fire Chief Steve Knuckles.
Charlie Yates, general manager of the Inn at Morro Bay and chairman of the Morro Bay Tourism Bureau said, “That’s not my problem! Not in my backyard! Not my children!’ This ugly subject gets swept under the rug. We have closed our eyes to the reality that our children are being forced into sex slavery. Wake up, be aware of what is happening, and speak up if you hear or see anything!”
The Inn at Morro Bay will host the summit’s keynote speaker, Opal Singleton, author of “Seduced: Grooming America’s Teenagers.” Singleton is president/CEO of www.Millionkids.org and training and outreach coordinator for Riverside County’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.
Her latest book explores her research on how the Internet allows predators access to our teens, grooming them for sex-trafficking under our noses.
Rotary Club of Morro Bay President Jude Long, which is co-sponsoring the summit with St. Timothy’s Women’s Guild said, “It’s easy to think that it can’t happen here and just ignore the problem that has developed worldwide. But once I learned how lucrative [more money than selling drugs] and accessible [any computer or smart phone] trafficking and modern day slavery has become, I wanted to use my voice and energy to learn about this issue and bring awareness to our local communities.”
Rotary International has been studying human trafficking for several years and for the past 3 years, the topic was brought to the attention of well over 100,000 Rotarians during their annual conventions.
Past District Governor, Deepa Willingham, and moderator for the afternoon action panel at the SLO Summit brought the inhumane behavior to Rotary leadership based on development of a school for trafficked girls in India.
The issue is international and U.S. law enforcement officials are geared up to protect teens from predators, but help is needed from the public to recognize the signs that sex trafficking is happening and learn who to call for help.
What can we — parents, educators, community leaders and citizens — do? Public awareness and education is the answer.
All Estero Bay Rotary Clubs — Los Osos, Cambria, Morro Bay Sunset and Cayucos Seaside — offered support for the Sept. 15 summit. For only $15, attendees receive lunch by Lolo’s Mexican Restaurant of Morro Bay and expert training on the issue. Other community sponsors are the Inn at Morro Bay, Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, Kornreich Designs, and several media partners.
“As a parent,” said Leonard Moothart, “I can only imagine the pain and utter despair you would feel to lose a child to trafficking with little hope of seeing them whole again. We need to stop the suffering caused by these heartless monsters to their victims and our communities. We need to be educated and stand together.” Moothart is past president of the Los Osos Rotary and will moderate the morning panel.
State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham will discuss current legislation; SLO County D.A. Dow will attest to local prosecutions and activity; County Sheriff Ian Parkinson will discuss gang activity related to human trafficking; and former Rotary Dist. 5240 Governor, Willingham, will share how and why this epidemic is happening in America and how to best protect the survivors.
Register today for the SLO County Human Trafficking Summit set for 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15 at www.sloagainsthumantrafficking.eventbrite.com or it may be too late. The summit will be at the Morro Bay Community Center, 1001 Kennedy Way.
Take action to make SLO County a non-tolerance county for human sex trafficking by attending the summit. “If you see something, say something. Call 9-1-1 or Crime Stoppers at 549-STOP.”