Soroptimist vs Human Trafficking: A Look Back at 13 Years of Raising Awareness

by Kaye Van Nevel

I have learned so much in the years Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland has been a voice in the fight against sex trafficking. Many people are still unaware or believe it only occurs everywhere else: third world or impoverished countries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states over 30 million people are enslaved worldwide in either labor or sex trafficking. In the U.S. there are 20,000 + victims of sex trafficking, 72% of whom are Americans. San Diego is designated by the FBI as one of the 13 worst child sex trafficking cities in our country.

COLLABORATIVE (n.) – A collaborative involves two or more people or organizations working together for a particular purpose

Standing beside me today:
Catherine Manis, who in 2005 as President recognized the local impact. Also, SI encouraged programs for global participation.
Marisa Ugarte, Founder Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition and one of the first voices for in the fight against human trafficking. The beginning of my education.
• The attendees at the Collaborative meetings for the past 13 years, many of whom are Soroptimists from sister clubs, and the United Methodist Church of Vista who open their doors for our meetings, and whose Cable Grants have been essential its success.
Stephanie Gonzales, Program Coordinator, North County Lifeline, Project Life. The case managers are first responders, called in when a suspected victims of human trafficking is retained, offering clothing, personal necessities, therapy, and safety. Since 2013 they have successfully helped 111 women and girls.
Kathy Hardy, survivor and Founder and Director of Freedom from Exploitation. In addition to counseling women and girls she conducts a First Offender Diversion Programs for the City Attorney’s office in which a man who has been arrested or cited for a first offense of procuring the services of a prostitute, is sent to her group.
Granville (Tom) Jones, Project Healing Outreach and Peer Empowerment to support men who have been sexually abused, exploited or have been victims of human trafficking. His words, “We have a clear understanding than men a far less likely than women to seek out support for trauma, in fact most never do”
Mayor Judy Ritter
California Legislators who have authored laws, successfully passed to better protect victims and increase penalties for perpetrators/pimps.
Joseph Travers, retired Navy Seal and Law Enforcement, Saved in America.
Jamie Quient, Lawyers Club of San Diego, and Founder and Lead Attorney for Free To Thrive which offers pro bono services to victims of sex trafficking.
Sisters Jean and Sheila, Directors who for 5 years directed the operation of Hope House, North County’s shelter for adult women victims of human trafficking. AND, Susan Johnson, Alabaster Jar Project the current director. We now know it as Grace House. The generosity of the Catholic Church to pay a year’s rent in advance when Susan took the helm, is a most extraordinary ecumenical collaboration, and a direct result of introductions at our Collaborative meetings.
Jaimee Johnson, Survivor, Thriver, from 7 years in “The Life”. She has been Peer Counselor, Project Life, and is currently Probation Mentor for Gang Suppression, VVC, Mother of three, going back to school.
And, standing beside me, Allison Metzler, Marge Swacker, Lani Beltrano, Karen Del Bene, Paula Nix and all our members. I am beyond grateful for the wonderful coverage and work Jackie Huyck and Aleta Dirdo deliver through Social Media and Soroptiline. Cherie Wilson spends hours each month combing the local newspapers, The LA and New York Times, and the internet to produce her well written article Good News Bad News. We are educating Desert Coast Region!

It really is all about education. And it is, most certainly time, to look at an uncomfortable truth. We can rescue, rehabilitate, and empower women for all we’re worth, but unless we take a hard look at WHOSE buying it’s a losing battle. This is called “THE DEMAND SIDE.”

Education IS at long last getting into our schools. Human trafficking will soon be introduced into high school Health Classes. BUT, we MUST recognize and break the cultural norms in this county and bring conversations into our living rooms and kitchens, where we talk about the power of respecting girls and women by bringing our boys and men into the discussion. I’ll pose a question to you. Do we recognize the cultural encouragement of the comments, frequently said with a chuckle, ‘Boy’s will be boys’; ‘Let ‘em sow their wild oats’? Or get rid of TV programs which are pretty much R Rated. Let’s recognize the degrading effect of programs with titles like “Pimp My Ride?” We have a culture to in need of RE education, with a lot of work ahead.

Our District Attorney, Summer Stephan, is been a powerful voice. When she was the Chief of the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division she tried over 100 jury trials. About 2 years ago, under her the direction, 29 would-be prostitution customers were arrested in San Diego as a part of a statewide crackdown on sexual exploitation of young women and girls. The multi-agency effort dubbed “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild.” Took place over a three day period, focusing on the demand side of human trafficking Stephan described the sweep as a “wake up call for men who buy sex, about the damage they are doing to our young women and children and the cycle of abuse they are promoting.”

So…The upcoming 13th Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Walk on January 12 brings the larger community together. Although it may be only a one-time shot at education, our presenters are sure to make an impact. As mentioned at an earlier meeting, Joseph Travers, Saved in America will be one of our speakers. AND it is with great pleasure that I add District Attorney Summer Stephan to the podium.

Hope to see you there!

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