Ford Motor Company and former Access Hollywood host Shaun Robinson held an open discussion panel about human sex trafficking on Saturday August 12 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
Robison founded the non-profit organization S.H.A.U.N Foundation for Girls to empower young girls through STEM, Health, Arts, Unity, and Neighborhoods.
“I wanted to start a passion project. This is my time to help girls lead better lives,” Robinson said.
The diverse panel included human trafficking survivors and law enforcement officials.
Rachel Thomas, a human sex trafficking survivor, spoke about her journey. Thomas was only twenty when a man approached her about modeling.
“He sold me on jump on how to start my modeling career. Thirty minutes later a girl around my age approached me and said how amazing of an agent he was,” Thomas said.
“Six weeks later I found myself in human trafficking.”
Thomas was unaware of the psychological manipulation used by many traffickers. The manipulations eventually led her to become a club dancer. When she wanted to leave, her trafficker threatened to kill her and her parents.
“I heard him rumbling papers. He then read off my address and my parents address,” said Thomas.
Her journey sparked a conversation about the physical looks and personalities of traffickers.
“The traffickers are suave and charming. They are able to make you think you are the greatest,” Robison said.
Tracey Webb, former Cyber Crime and Child Abuse prosecutor, echoed those statements.
“I’ve prosecuted them. They don’t look like the typical guy in a trench coat.”
Webb presented startling statistics about sex trafficking. She calls this the new modern-day form of slavery.
“After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with illegal arms. It is the second fastest growing illegal industry in the world,” Webb said.
Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco are the top three cities in the country for human trafficking. Seventy percent of victims are sold online. The average age of victims starts at fifteen with Los Angeles County starting at twelve.
Drug traffickers have transitioned to human trafficking due to the unlikeliness of prosecution. The victims are afraid to speak about the abuse.
The panel, some whom are parents, explained the importance of having parental guidance on their teenager’s phone.
Anonymous messaging apps such as Kik are used to lure kids into trafficking. Kids are also using apps called “vault apps” that hide other apps. Even videogames systems such as PlayStations are a window for traffickers to target children.
Kim Biddle, founder of the organization Saving Innocence, advocates for a new justice system that doesn’t prosecute victims. “My track coach abused me and thirty six other victims. The prosecution in court led to three mistrials. The coach was let go.”
Biddle, who first traveled to other countries to prevent trafficking, noticed western men were the majority of the criminals. That realization inspired her to return back to America and investigate why this issue is prevalent.
“The problem here was more complex because it was more hidden. It was masked by our government structural systems that are in place,” Biddle said.
Jessica Midkiff, another trafficking survivor, had a childhood of sexual abuse. Her trafficking started when she was just eleven years old by someone in her family.
“I didn’t get sold to the streets until I was fourteen. I would stand on Sunset, Figueroa, Long Beach, Sepulveda, and Western. If you didn’t make a certain amount of money, you would be abused in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine,” Midkiff said.
Joan Pera, supervising deputy probation officer of Los Angeles County, explained why the term “child prostitute” holds a dangerous connation.
“A lot of girls think they are prostitutes but they are actually victims that have been lured. Maybe they are not being physically forced but they are being psychologically forced,” said Pera.
New laws are in place to help curve prosecution. Her team helps victims rather than jail them.
Actress Garcelle Beauvais spoke about her upcoming film called “Lalo’s House.” The film sheds light to human trafficking in Haiti.
Beauvais, who is Haitian, said the film was important to her as a parent.
“We really wanted to do a movie that will start a conversation like the one we are having today,” Beauvais said.
The event ended with Robinson presenting the Saving Innocence organization a five thousand dollar check for their advocacy.
If anyone suspects human trafficking, please call Child Protective Services or local police officials.