Human Trafficking & Sexual Slavery in Ventura County?

Most people are shocked to discover its nature and extent

By Gloria Massey Chinea, Friday, March 10, 2017                                                            

Seven chapters of Ventura County Soroptimist International (SI) Organization presented an educational & advocacy event on Human Trafficking & Sexual Slavery in Ventura County.  On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, nearly 150 people came to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ventura  to hear what are the real issues occurring in our County.  It is an issue that is not table talk with our families or community members; it is an issue that needs to be moved to the forefront of conversations so that people are aware of the circumstances and thus can help law enforcement eradicate this societal cancerous condition.

Debbie Gohlke, president of SI Oxnard welcomed and introduced the speaker panelist to the audience.   The meeting started with a video that set the stage for the issue at hand- “Women in Chains Tears for Fear”.  It presented three aspects of what human trafficking entails: 1) sexual slavery, 2) sweat-shop slavery and 3) organ trafficking.  The panelists described mostly the effort of government and not-for-profit organizations in collaborating and networking together toward stopping Sexual Slavery in our county.

Detective Sheriff Judith Porter (Judith.Porter@ventura.org)  has been a member of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years and assigned to the VC Sherriff’s Special Crimes Unit as a Human Trafficking Investigator. She shared that the issue at hand is a global one affecting 600-800 thousand that are been trafficked worldwide.  In the US the number is about 12,500 to 17,500.  The main issues occur in larger cities like SF, LA, SD Counties and San Gabriel Valley. But nonetheless, Ventura County gets affected due to the mobility of these crimes via the closeness to other counties and easy access to transportation via railways, and freeways.  It makes it easy to run the circuit of sex slavery into our area.

Major issues occur in massage parlors, motels and residential motels in our areas.  Mostly the recruitment is from group homes, schools and other venues facilitating  access to children- male and females, as well as adults older than 18 up to 60 years of age.  Also, some of the victims are immigrants that are recruited and launched into the US under false pretenses of a job and a better life.  The customers are being recruited by using social media sites and webpages. Porter provided an example where In February of 2016, members of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Oxnard Police Department and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office conducted prostitution stings at local motels in Ventura County. (http://dioknoed.blogspot.com/2016/08/human-trafficking-ring-busted-in.html). She described that in this Asian case, they discovered they had been offered visas and got the females involved in commercial sex, providing the ring leaders a very lucrative life and bank accounts.

Why is this such an issue and why do victims feel trapped?  The victims usually don’t know the English language and are not familiar with the surroundings where they are placed. They are trapped in their environment of motels, hotels and parlors and are led to believe that they are into total dependence on their traffickers.  The victims had to work even if they didn’t want to work.  The victims can’t be turned out and say they can’t and will not do the work. They are the voiceless victims.  (http://highschool.latimes.com/foothill-technology-high-school/prostitution-in-ventura-not-just-in-big-cities-and-movies/)

How can you help?  Porter suggested that if you see and watch in a residential area: a home or condominium with unusually heavy foot traffic, one male with multiple females, if you see unknown vehicles and if you see girl’s swaps call your local police department to investigate what is going on in that situation.  It is important to make those phone calls for them to investigate.   We must be the eyes and ears in our communities.

Another member of the panel was Kristina Fitz from Inglewood California, a 3.5 GPA high school student who  came from a family of high achievers, but didn’t feel loved and appreciated in her family.  Fitz was a Pharmacy Tech student when she got involved with gangs and drugs. At 21 – 22 years of age, she found somebody who listened, so she confided in him and told him everything and that is how they engaged in a relationship which the Fitz family didn’t approve of  That is when this man, the exploiter, took advantage of knowing so much and in less than a year of their relationship put her to work as a sex slave, initiated her services in Pasadena at Colorado Blvd. and joined the circuit of travel with the ring that took her to Vegas to serve clients.  Fitz, got impregnated by her pimp/gang ring exploiter.  He made her work even while she was pregnant.  Fitz stated that “you are a business for this person”.  She delivered at 6 months of pregnancy and  2 months after her delivery she was put back to work again as a sex slave.  Fitz, states that “there is no age limit: it could start as early as 11 years of age up to the age of 60 years old”.  She was in the Human Trafficking industry for 6 years until a truck driver provided her escape and took her out of state to Oklahoma. There, the  Mary Magdalen organization and Journey Out provided her support to break the cycl, as a survivor of commercial sex industry.

Today, Kristina Fitz works closely with a variety of selected young ladies and adult woman offering one to one mentorship to those currently in the judicial system. She participates in the education and training of local community partners with Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.  She’s currently also  working towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, with the goal of becoming a speech and language pathologist therapist for children.

Ventura County District Attorney Senior Investigator, Michael Munn began his law enforcement career in 1987 in Buena Park, subsequently promoted through the ranks and developed his expertise in this area.  In 2015 Munn was hired by the VC District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation as a DA Investigator II.   As part of his responsibility, he was tasked to form the VC Human Trafficking Enforcement Team, which includes local police agencies in VC, along with the FBI and Amtrak Police.  Munn said that the task force has created fictitious ads that have attracted 300 calls in 30 minutes, sometimes taking only 47 seconds for the ads to attract customers.  He described that the PIMPs are mostly ages 20 to 30 years old, while the victims range from early years as young as 11 to 60 years of age. The local telephone number that you can call Investigator Mike Munn is 805.383.4786.

Other service organizations were present at the gathering providing resources to the participants attending the informational gathering.  Those involved were:  ASN, Forever Found, Journey Out and Aglow International.  Educational and awareness materials were distributed free of charge to the participants.

The Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation states that: “Human Trafficking is a crime!  Human Trafficking is the Modern Day Slavery.   Here are some warning signs of Human Trafficking victims, which may include the following:

  • Demeanor: appears fearful, depressed, submissive
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • Lies about age
  • Provides false identification
  • Injuries and signs of physical abuse
  • Branding, markings or tattoos
  • Unaware of surroundings
  • Force or threatened to work in unfavorable conditions”

If you see any of these signs, call your local police department, 911 or the call the National Trafficking Hotline 1.888.373.7888.

As Detective James Langford from the Oxnard PD has stated: “Human trafficking has been investigated in this county recently and in the past. There is no doubt that it is still occurring; we just need to find them.”

Lastly, I would like to share some public cases for your awareness and knowledge that this issue is occurring in Ventura County from 2013 till the present. This information has been provided by Forever Found www.foreverfound.org

2013:

2014:

  • “Operation Broken Heart” Arrested 275 child predators in five counties:

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/06/26/southern-california-authorities-announce-arrest-275-child-predators-in.html

2015:

2016:

http://citizensjournal.us/man-sentenced-to-10-years-8-months-for-human-trafficking-of-a-minor/

  • On January 29, 2016, Ventura Police Department conducted an operation in which they posted a fictitious ad on a prominent website selling sex. The ad received over 100 responses in just under 8 hours. Callers were told by an undercover officer that the person for sale was a minor. Officers arrested the first four callers who arrived at the designated meeting spot. This operation was paid for by the Forever Found Law Enforcement Fund.

http://www.vcstar.com/news/local/ventura/fourarrested-in-ventura-operation-targeting-sexual-predators-2a0471e8-3ccb-6912-e053-0100007fb732-366339391.html

  • MODERN SLAVERY | Detectives bust suspected human trafficking ring operating in Ventura County

https://www.vcreporter.com/2016/08/24/modern-slavery-detectives-bust-suspected-human-trafficking-ring-operating-in-ventura-county/

2017:

  • Couple arrested in Ventura for trafficking 16 year old girl

http://www.keyt.com/news/crime/couple-arrested-in-ventura-for-human-sex-trafficking/267256248

  • Camarillo couple arrested for human trafficking

http://www.keyt.com/news/crime/camarillo-couple-arrested-for-human-trafficking/143003685

 

You definitely can be the eyes and the ears of our community.  Be alert, be informed and call your local police department.  The police department staff is there to support you, guide you and protect you and your neighborhoods.

According to AGLOW local president Marcia at 805.229.7075 you can personally take action and the steps are as follows: 1) support an anti-trafficking organization through prayer as a ministry; 2) Partner with local anti-trafficking organizations in your community and 3) Receive and spread awareness about anti-trafficking.  You can get the Aglow Anti-Trafficking Newsletter by requesting it at https://www.myaglow.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=554

Several cities and VC Supervisor proclamations related to this topic and were displayed in the courtyard tables where service organizations were displaying their work and the educational material available to give away to the participants of this event.

Topics that need future in-depth information are to provide more specifics in statistics, gender, age, cities, immigration status and types of crimes in the area of human trafficking i.e. sex slaves, children for sale, sweat shops, body organs stings.  Also, it would be beneficial for the agencies to provide opportunity for others to get involved with other organizations that provide services to children i.e. Boys and Girls Clubs of VC, VC Naval Base, local growers organizations as well as large private corporations’ human resources professionals who could bring another view to the issue in Ventura County and help resolve this issue.

Remember……

 

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Information compiled by Gloria Massey Chinea, attendee  and participant of the Soroptimist International of Oxnard, Camarillo, The Conejo, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Simi Valley and Fillmore 10th Annual STOP Human Trafficking and Sexual Slavery on Wednesday March 8, 2017 in Ventura California for Citizensjournal.us | Ventura County’s Real News @ citizensjournal.us


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