No matter, said Mayor Bob Sampayan. “We’re starting off small and moving this forward. I don’t see solutions tonight. It’s us getting the message out that we’re looking at it as a national and local issue that needs to be addressed.”
“I would have liked to have seen more community participation, but, overall, I was pleased with the event,” Sampayan added. “It was a good discussion with the panelists … human trafficking is not something we can sweep under the rug and hope that it goes away. We need to educate parents about how child human trafficking starts and how they can learn of the danger signs. We need to talk about this more and I hope that the conversation continues.”
Meredith Webb, clinical services supervisor at the Solano County Office of Education, joined Det. Jarrett Tonn of the Vallejo Police Dept., Christopher Cassels of Child Welfare Services, and Melissa Pardi of Seneca, Fairfield-based agency contracted with Vallejo to work with at-risk children.
Vallejo Councilmember Rozzana Verder-Aliga welcomed the speakers and an audience of about a dozen concerned locals to the church’s sanctuary and the event that acknowledged January as Anti-Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
“This isn’t just in Vallejo, it impacts all cities in Solano County,” said Verder-Aliga, helping to coordinate the agencies “that are most concerned about the plight of children and women. We do have to recognize there is a problem in Vallejo so we can put together programs to address it and make sure children and women are safe.”
Before the panel fielded a handful of questions from the public, Webb delivered a 30-minute presentation about human trafficking and the commercial exploitation of children, the most vulnerable children exploited, types of exploiters, Bay Area areas where exploiters recruit, methods of exploitation, and prevalence of violence in sex buying.
Webb also discussed the prevalence of accessibility, with pornography sites alone expanding 1,800 percent between 199-2007 and that 12 percent of all web sites are pornographic and that 25 percent of all online search engine requests are related to sex.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” Webb said, advocating for “shifting the ‘pimp culture’” which formally “seemed like something cool … lots of money, lots of girls around.’”
In reality, “they’re human traffickers, human exploiters,” Webb said, noting that the “Johns” aren’t innocent bystanders.
“They are the purchasers, the buyers” that create the market, said Webb, emphasizing that the I-80 and I-680 corridors are ideal for traffickers because of exit access to motels.
“Traffickers have taken advantage of our community and youth of all ages,” said Webb, speaking from her experience handling hundreds of cases, including families selling their own children to support drug addiction.
Granted, “it’s not a comfortable conversation,” but Webb said families need to discuss the easy access to pornography, proper internet restrictions, and how to avoid being a victim.
The movies may glorify the trade, but it’s not pleasant, Webb said.
“Frequent beatings, frequent death threats,” she said.
“It’s a scary world on social media,” said Tonn, with the VPD almost six years. “We see what most adults don’t see. We need to give children good role models.”
Tonn said the best way to curb prostitution is to prevent it early before involvement by better education about the perils in high school and even earlier at home.
“Parents need to get involved as mentors,” he said.
Prostitution “is not a victimless crime,” said Sampayan, a former police officer. “Look at who is being trafficked. Sometimes you have juveniles who have been kidnapped and forced into this trade. You have adult women forced into this trade. And there is a lot of violence that occurs and all the ugliness that happens in human trafficking.”
Again, Sampayan reiterated, “we have to get out with the education and talk about it. What we’re doing now is that we’re starting dialogue, starting a conversation and that we’re not going to tolerate it as a community.”
Anyone suspect a youth is being exploited is asked to call the Solano County Child Welfare Services at 1-800-544-8696.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is 1-888-373-7888.