When you think of human trafficking, you may think, “That’s not common here.”
But, it hits much closer to home than you’d realize.
“When they pick those youth up, typically, a lot of those youth are from our county, which is concerning,” Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Director of Forensic Services and Victim Advocacy Denise Rodriguez Bowman shared.
According to Bowman, of those who are trafficked in the region, many are usually picked up in San Bernardino County, Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
To help combat this crisis, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office approached the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center and created the “Coalition To End Human Trafficking.”
Since then, they say they investigate about 500 leads every year.
“We will work with them, get the resources, an investigation may embark and we will help facilitate that with our partners,” Bowman explained. “We talk to children, we talk to adults, we talk to young adults about human trafficking, the signs, what to look out for and how to report how to find that trusted adult.
Here in the desert, there are about 100 cases of labor trafficking every year.
But that number is likely tripled.
“People are not reporting that because of the stigma of working with law enforcement, the fear of deportation and things like that. We think it’s really important as a coalition to get out there and communicate to our constituents in the Coachella Valley that report. Nothing will happen to the reporting party,” Bowman said.
The communities most at risk are those who are under-resourced in our county.
But there are ways to help prevent this from happening before it’s too late.
“If you see your child or your teenager really starting to engage in that risky behavior, running away, coming back home with large amounts of money, maybe some branding or tattooing that wasn’t there before, now under control that seems like they’re not able to talk for themselves,” Bowman continued. “We talk about social media. A lot of that is reaching out through social media. It happens and we’ve seen it.”
“We want the community to know that you can report to us and we’ll help navigate this complicated system,” Bowman said. “We’ll help victims and survivors get to where they have some justice in their life.”
For this month, the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center is hosting seminars and will be in a human trafficking discussion panel on January 25th.
That will be in Thousand Palms at Safe House of the Desert.
For all the coalition’s available resources, click here.