Anti-trafficking cause gets local boost

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Anti-trafficking cause gets local boostHundreds of thousands of children are believed to be enslaved in the vast sex-trafficking network in the United States. An untold number of those are transported and exploited in California. But very few people know the extent of the problem in our very own region, the risks to our youth, and the pathways for combatting the illegal trade.

One local woman is seeking to raise funds for the women and children rescued from trafficking and to enhance public awareness through a fund-raiser and informational workshop tomorrow, Nov. 18, from noon to 6 p.m. at Cornerstone Bible Church.

“Several years ago I read a book called ‘God in a Brothel,’ which was written by a man who was involved in rescuing trafficked women from brothels,” said Jessica Roberts De Haan, a local physician’s assistant. “It shocked me to the core.”

She began to independently research the subject, consuming whatever information she could find on the subject.

When she returned from a mission trip to India in 2014, her friend Julie Miller told her about Project Rescue — which employs rescued women to make handmade items. These are sold and the proceeds go toward helping exploited women and their families get established in new lives.

“I fell in love with the organization and with the products,” said De Haan.

She will sell those items at the upcoming workshop. “People are always looking for good gifts this time of year. I wanted to expand on this concept and make it more educational for our community as well.

A second partnering organization is Agape International Mission, which has similar goals to Project Rescue and carries them out in the rest of the world.

“Kern County has a horrible reputation for human trafficking,” said De Haan. “This whole area is on a circuit whereby women are trafficked from cities like Los Angeles over to Las Vegas.” She said that Kramer Junction and other traffic stops are notorious for hosting victims.

“We have been somewhat sheltered from this issue, living in our oasis next door to China Lake,” she said. “However, we can’t be so naive as to think it’s not lurking under our very own noses in this town.”

She said that Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking data indicates that although the problem does not exist here on the same scale, there are still local victims.

“Even the three or four girls that this has happened to in our town are too much! Every life matters, and I just pray our eyes and ears will be more open to this cause than they were before.”

The informational part of the workshop will begin with a brief overview of the trafficking problem at noon.

At 1 p.m. De Haan will lead a discussion about how to intercept the supply of victims. “In our country and state, runaways are the biggest victims.”

Supporting programs such as emergency foster-care service can keep children from running out of a bad situation at home, “and into the arms of pimps who will prostitute them.”

A guest presenter will lead a discussion at 2 p.m. about pornography. “This is going to raise some hairs, and I will be frank with you, we are doing it from a Christian worldview,” said De Haan. “This means we believe sin is in all of us,and we have to deal with the sin in our hearts before we can address the sin in the world. One can’t talk about the commercial sex industry without hitting on how pornography fuels it.”

A movie featuring trafficking issues in Kern County will be screened from 3-5 p.m. “This will likely be heavy and I don’t know how appropriate it will be if children are there.”

The workshop will close with a 5 p.m. with a panel discussion featuring experts from the Women’s Shelter and KCAHT, who will also field questions from the audience.

Raising money is a significant goal for De Haan, who hopes to be able to support the missions of Project Rescue and Agape International. She will also be selling items made by formerly exploited orphans in Togo.

Raising awareness is also key, she said. “The more that we are aware, the more likely that an average citizen might be able to intercept the supply of victims, confront the demand and report suspicious behavior that could lead to the rescue of those bing trafficked.

“I also want us to be aware of our own sin in regard to why we tolerate such atrocities in our midst. Sometimes it’s clearly due to ignorance. But other times, I believe, we just don’t care because we are selfishly focused on our own lives to the exclusion of others’ welfare.

“I want us to look inside ourselves and realize that each person possesses part of the solution to the problem. It may start with just a simple gesture such as going up to the person who looks lonely and dejected and sitting by herself in the park and making sure she’s OK.”

Story First Published: 2017-11-17