Updated: May 21, 2020
Since the pandemic hit, we’ve all had to adjust. Your favorite restaurant isn’t the only one pivoting their business model right now; so are predators looking to take advantage of vulnerable individuals for their personal gain. So while many businesses are closed for now, we are opening doors to online Community Q&As with experts in the field of labor and sex trafficking
But first, 5 results of the coronavirus:
Predators and kids alike are getting much more screen time
Illicit massage establishments are seeing no decrease in business since the mandatory non-essential business closure order, creating an increased public health risk
Victims of sex trafficking and exploitation are being forced to offer COVID specials, meaning discounts or additional services, to meet financial or trafficker demands
Traffickers are meeting buyer-demand by grooming the lonely, broke, and bored online for webcasting and pornography
Survivors are experiencing higher levels of PTSD and trauma triggers as a result of the limited freedom of movement and financial insecurity
Our sweet spot has always been in training and group presentations and our community awareness events have always been our arena for greatest impact. We share our knowledge and provide education so that business leaders and community members can make decisions from an informed perspective. Since the onset of our Network, we have been asked to speak at events anywhere from the Embassy in Tijuana all the way to the St Thomas University School of Law in Florida. Clearly social distancing and travel concerns have stymied those efforts, which is why we’ve taken a tip from Ellen and turned our speaking events into interview-style webinars.
Our program pivot right now is to identify potential coronavirus fallout on domestic sex and labor trafficking and provide the most credible resources to respond through our live Q&A webinars: What is the problem, what are some possible solutions.
Here are a few examples of new problems communities are experiencing due to COVID-19:
The Salvation Army’s Anti Trafficking Services Program, which provides shelter and victim services to individuals who have been trafficked, cannot accept any new referrals to protect the health of current clients
Illicit massage businesses and residential brothels saw an increase in visitors. However, in OC, a very effective community response to address this very real increased risk to public health was innovated: When customers were seen (from a car parked at a safe distance) going into or out of these locations that were mandated to be closed due to COVID, a quick call to city code compliance resulted in a Cease and Desist order (Let me know if you would like to know more about this approach).
The “zero bail mandate” which means unless you are brought in for a violent or serious crime, you’re being released with no bail and nothing more than a pinky promise to return for arraignment, to include pimps and traffickers, because, wait for it, trafficking is designated as a non-violent non-serious crime in CA (See prop 57).
Noble screen-time limits once in place by parents have now been traded for work-at-home demands and a few moments of peace. Predators and potential traffickers are going to the same apps and making offers to help with homework, or pay to watch them sing in their pajamas..the grooming process begins.
As a result, we’re working with our local experts to provide the most relevant information on these topics and putting them together in 45-minute Community Q&A online conversations.
COVID-19 and Impact on Human Trafficking: Demand. To anticipate the moves of a criminal, we have to think like a criminal. So we called the police. We need to know how buyers and traffickers are using a lockdown to their advantage. So for our first webinar, we addressed how buyers of sex are exploiting the system to achieve their means. It appears that buyers moved much of their activity to illicit massage establishments, residential brothels, and live webcam shows. Additionally, many are preying upon kids and their abundant time at home and as a result abundant time on social media. We brought in SGT Juan Reveles of the OC Human Trafficking Taskforce to address how demand was adapting, and our own Todd Forester, VP, to educate on the SM platforms and strategies used to connect with kids for nefarious intent.
The Life in Times of Coronavirus: Impact on Victims and Victim Services. Our second webinar dealt with the issues around Victim Impacts of COVID-19 We invited Marjorie Saylor, Survivor and Founder of The Alabaster Jar Project to share how hotels are leveraging their capacity to provide services to individuals being trafficked, both for emergency shelter but also for individuals looking to exit the life of exploitation. Since many emergency services organizations are limited in their ability to respond due to either loss of funding or public health concerns, hotels have been a source of support by expanding their capacity to help those fighting for freedom.
Online Safety When the Classroom is the Living Room: Our 3rd Community Q&A addressed how parents can mitigate access and privacy controls at home as well as how to talk to kids about the dangers. We invited Clay Cranford, founder of the Cyber Safety Cop program for schools and parents, And Pam Ender, a School Psychologist to answer questions and concerns from parents.
When Life is Turned Upside Down, Again: Survivors Surviving COVID-19 Using a trauma-informed approach, we’re shifting our attention to support for survivors. Financial insecurity and limited freedom of movement can be retriggering for survivors of both labor and sex trafficking, and both are very common since the shutdown. We’ll hear from survivors about what they are going through and how YOU can help. Join us June 9th at 3:30 to hear how Survivors are Surviving.
The coronavirus has forced almost every business to redefine and adapt, and everyone, pimps and predators included, is scrambling to recapture their market share. Therefore we remain committed to building a Network with other organizations and individuals doing critical work in the fight against human trafficking. Our Community Q&A forums focus on relevant and open conversations that provide tools, tips, and Informed Action opportunities from experts in the field. This is how we mobilize...
So Mobilize with us: take 5 minutes to sign the pledge, give $5 to support our efforts or share our blog with 5 friends to help build the Network you can also give 45 minutes to listen and learn. By attending a webinar, asking a question, engaging your circle of influence about what you’ve learned, you’re mobilizing against the offenders and refusing to let them go unchecked. Yes, the fight against the bad guys is uphill, but we firmly believe the power is with the community to bring justice, 5 dollars, 5 friends, or 5 minutes at a time.