A beacon of hope for victims

Kern County-based advocates bring film about human trafficking to Ridgecrest

A beacon of hope for victimsBy THERESA GOLDSTRAND

News Review Correspondent

“Women who may appear to be prostitutes on the street are usually not there by choice,” said Doug Bennett, founder of Magdalene Hope High Desert. “They are being sold. They are being trafficked.”

Bennett is a Christian pastor in Bakersfield who founded “Magde-lene Hope,” a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking.

Bennett has teamed with filmmaker Michael Fagans to bring awareness of human trafficking to Kern County residents.

Fagans’ feature length movie, “The Trafficked Life,” will be shown at Ridgecrest Cinemas on Saturday, March 28, at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 each, and the proceeds will go toward fighting human trafficking in Kern County.

“All three survivors featured in the film were trafficked in Kern County,” Fagans said. “Human trafficking is a crime that needs to be exposed and eradicated.”

This is Fagans’ first documentary film. He and Bennett plan to submit this documentary to the Sundance Film Festival in summer 2015.

“For me, we’ve already met our goal by raising awareness [about human trafficking],” Fagans said. “We have an invitation to show the film in Fresno and also in Portland, Ore. Word-of-mouth advertising has helped.”

According to Fagans, 14,500 to 17,500 humans are annually trafficked in the United States. He said San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are the three largest cities in California for human trafficking. Bakersfield is on the north-south trafficking route by way of Highways 99 and 5. It is also on the Las Vegas-Reno route.

“Human trafficking is a crime and human rights abuse. Every major metropolitan area between Washington state and San Diego is a potential hot spot,” Bennett said. “The girls don’t know if they’ll be going north, south, east or west.”

Statistics from the website www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/overview indicate that more than 50 percent of trafficking victims are U.S. citizens. The average age of minors being trafficked is between 12-14 years old.

“Human trafficking victims are not willing participants,” said Bennett, who has also established a safehouse in the Tehachapi Mountains. “They are being sold by someone else.

“There are people who are being sold, on a regular basis, right here in Kern County.”

Trailing behind Australia and Japan, the United States is among the top three countries with the highest recorded statistics on human trafficking.

According to the film, human trafficking generates profits up to $32 billion annually.

“One of the Kern County survivors is now the facility director at our Restoration Ranchhouse,” said Bennett. “We offer therapy, education and unconditional love. We help victims get on the right track and get the help they need to be safe and whole.”

The State Route 204 logo seen on the “Trafficked Life” handbill represents a short state highway in Bakersfield that connects State Route 99 with State Route 58 and downtown Bakersfield. It also connects three major freeways that run through Bakersfield — State Route 99, State Route 58 and State Route 178 (also running through Ridge-crest). All of State Route 204 is considered the business portion of State Route 99.

It is significant because this is a strip where young women who are being trafficked can readily be found.

“The bad guys found out it’s more profitable to sell human beings than drugs,” said Bennett. “Drugs are a one-time buy-and-sell deal. Humans can be sold over and over again, so there is a higher profit margin. If the police stop a girl on the street and she’s not holding drugs, and the ‘boyfriend’ is nearby, the police don’t have a reason to interfere. They can’t hold her.”

Here are some statistics from polarisproject.org/human-traffic

king/overview

• The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 5.5 million children. About 55 percent are women and girls.

• In 2013 the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, operated by Polaris, received multiple reports of human trafficking cases in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

• The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking make up a $150-billion industry worldwide.

• There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. With 100,000 children estimated to be in the sex trade in this country each year, the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.

• The number of human trafficking cases that Polaris learns about increases every year.

You can read the Polaris 2014 statistics report at the address given above. For information on Mag-dalene Hope High Desert, visit facebook.com/Magdalenehopeministry.

Pictured: Doug Bennett of Magdelene Hope and filmmaker Michael Fagans stand outside the Maya Theater in Bakersfield at the premiere of “The Trafficked Life." -- Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2015-03-27