December 11, 2018

Awoken to Modern Day Slavery

Amanda Caroline Bleich

I’d like to think about 2017 as the year when I finally woke up.  My head was pulled out of the sand, my eyes were opened, and the cold water of reality splashed and hit my face.  Was this painful, yes, but I am beyond grateful for this new awakening. Prior to this instance, I would not have considered myself to be blissfully ignorant.  I never shied away from volunteer work, was involved in organizations aimed at protecting animals, and tried to be a good global citizen by moving from pescatarian diet (of around 20 years) to vegan lifestyle. I have also had the privilege of living in extremely progressive places where the liberal ways were widely acceptable.  I guess that I just did not really feel threatened.

But, all of this changed… I guess that I owe this debt of gratitude to the current commander in chief.  As he took helm at the White House, I started to see, like many other people I know, that my rights as a woman were in jeopardy.  It was time stand up – it was time to take to notice and to really take action.  I joined the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, became our team’s liaison for the Advocacy Committee for the National Council of Jewish Women|LA, and was appointed to the Women’s Advisory Board (for the city in which I live).  When discussing important advocacy initiatives, as well as state legislation, it quickly became painfully clear as to how prevalent human trafficking has been and continues to be.

One starts to think – how is this possible?!  It is 2018, and there is already the 13th amendment to the United States that  abolished slavery.  In the past, I had thought that modern day slavery was something that happens elsewhere.  I ignorantly assumed that it was very much like the movie Taken.  But, that is not the case…  Human trafficking within the United States is way more common than many of us would care to acknowledge.

When I started to take notice, it became all too real and too close to home.  In July 2017, there was a huge ring busted in California – the 13 victims who were female minors were being openly sold for sex.   This was reported across many different news outlets – when we’re paying attention, the truth is not hard to find.  This ring of child exploitation was happening in Los Angeles County.  Per California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, “Human trafficking, which includes sex and labor trafficking, is one of the fasting growing crimes in the world. Its reach is not limited to foreign countries.  In California, human trafficking is reported here in our state more than in any other.”  The National Human Trafficking Hotline shows that California does in fact have the highest number of reported cases in the country, followed by Texas and Florida.

So, one might start to wonder why California of all places?!  Well, beyond being incredibly progressive, we’re also perfectly poised.  Traffickers are attracted to California because of its booming and constantly growing economy:  California has been ranked as one of the top 10 global economies.  There are people who are willing and able to spend tens of thousands of dollars to purchase another human: A sick and twisted real life example of supply and demand.  We also border another country, and have multiple international airports and shipping ports.  California is also home to many immigrants, some who may be here illegally, and are fearful to come forward.

Despite of this, there is actually hope.  There are volunteers, like myself, who go to places like bars, strip clubs, airports and other places that could be considered prime for trafficking, and we put up posters in plain sight for all to see.  These posters are in 3 languages, and they have numbers to call and text to report possible trafficking or to ask for help.  Towards the end of 2017, Governor Brown also passed legislation making it mandatory for such posters to be placed in hotels and motels.  Even before this law passed, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer investigated a motel that was a hot bed for such activity, and he then won a substantial settlement for the City of Los Angeles.

Will human trafficking continue to be an issue?  Well, I think that the answer is yes.  However, I think that what is so important is that there is some hope.  We have governmental leadership and law enforcement supporting our efforts, and actively pursuing those who are using such services.  Under the LA Country Board of Supervisors “first responder protocol,” LA sheriff’s deputies but offer them access to resources to keep them off the streets and instead target customers for arrest. The LA sheriff’s department also plans to join Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), a network operating in several cities that aims to cut the sex trafficking trade by 20 percent over two years.  And, even more recently in 2018, there was another statewide sting: “Teams from throughout California have joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to come down hard on business as usual for the pimps, exploiters and those who believe that it’s acceptable to buy another human being for sexual purposes,”  Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said. “The message we hope to send to the traffickers is: Don’t do business in Los Angeles County or the state of California, because we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”  I could not have put it better myself.

Amanda Caroline Bleich is an advertising technology specialist by day, hot yoga enthusiast by night, and a human and animal rights advocate and activist by soul calling.  Amanda is also a member of the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles’ Advocacy Committee.