The job of a Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer is to advocate for children within the dependency and juvenile system, always looking out for their best interests. Our current Commissioner Dylan Sullivan, who was appointed as a Superior Court Commissioner in 2011, shares this same belief. She has taken a lead role in standing up for some of our most vulnerable minors in El Dorado County, those that are victims of human trafficking.
I was privileged to hear her speak at a recent service club about this serious problem, one that exists globally, but also right here in El Dorado County. There are two types of human trafficking, sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Both are heinous, illegal and violate the victim’s human rights. When minors are involved in sex trafficking, it is even more so, as no minor can legally give consent.
Sullivan shared some facts and fallacies about human trafficking:
Fallacy: Trafficking only happens in undeveloped countries. The truth is that even U.S. companies, manufacturing in other countries, are involved.
Fact: An estimated 4 million to 27 million people are victims to human trafficking worldwide. Approximately 800,000 are trafficked across borders each year.
Fact: Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry.
Fallacy: The victim should “know better”.
Fact: In El Dorado County and all over the world, young people are being used as sex slaves and the average age of these minors is 12 to 14 years. They are being held against their will and are very afraid. In our backyard, minors are being brought to South Lake Tahoe to “entertain” clients of the people that are trafficking them.
Many of these youth are already at high risk and have faced many challenges in their lives. They are often runaways, victims of sexual, emotional, physical or neglectful abuse. They run from this, only to fall into the hands of those that prey on their vulnerability and homeless situation. What can be done?
Commissioner Sullivan shared that El Dorado County is leading the state in dealing “head on” with the trafficking of youth with a new and innovative approach. Mark Contois, with the Department of Human Service for El Dorado County has initiated a county-wide task force. The Foster Youth Human Trafficking Task Force includes law enforcement, probation, The Department of Human Services, Department of Education, Public Health, the Department of Mental Health, County Counsel and the DA’s office. Their mission is to collectively find solutions and help for the minor, recognizing the minor as a “child in crisis” as opposed to a criminal or delinquent. This approach, including issuing missing persons reports instead of only a warrant to locate and help minors, opens the door for an approach that can rescue these youth. These children need caring, not punishment. The goal is to help each victim to have tools and support from those that can help, which will lead to a better life situation, one far away from a life of human trafficking.
Kudos to Contois, Sullivan and to El Dorado County. Contois is currently being asked to speak throughout the state to share the success that the program is having in El Dorado County and Sullivan closed her speech that day by sharing that seven minors have been rescued as a result of this new approach. Every day there are great people doing great things. These are two of them.