By Katrina Van Duzee/Garden Grove Journal
An 18-year old girl from Birmingham, Alabama was promised job opportunities and money to feed her struggling family if she hopped a plane to London and worked in a pub, the minute she stepped off her flight the worst two weeks of her life began.
Irena went from a poor girl from the States to the property of a couple who sexually abused her continuously until she was able to escape two weeks later.
Last Thursday in Garden Grove, the Soroptimist International of Garden Grove and the Kiwanis Club of Garden Grove hosted a special meeting with a presentation by the director of Grandma’s House of Hope, Je’net Krietner, on how human trafficking affects our community.
“Just as there is a market for drugs and weapons, there is also a market for people,” said Lori Smith, who is the fire marshal for the city of Santa Ana.
The presentation featured actors from the Orange County High School of the Arts who performed monologues telling the stories of real victims of human trafficking and information was given on how to spot someone who is being enslaved.
Although cases of human trafficking don’t pop up in the news daily, this is an industry Krietner says is booming and not just in foreign countries.
Part of her goal and the mission of Grandma’s House of Hope, the only non-profit shelter in Garden Grove with the capacity to care for trafficked victims, is to educate people on how real this issue is, even for people living in Orange County suburbs, she said.
“These days human trafficking is home-grown and it even happens in Orange County,” Krietner said.
Since 2001, the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force has assisted over 100 victims and in 2010, their national hotline received 30 calls on potential human trafficking situations in the cities of Westminster, Anaheim, Buena Park, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Irvine, Rancho Santa Margarita and Foothill Ranch, Linh Tran from the OCHTTF said.
These calls referenced brothels, shopping centers and marriage fraud as the situations where people were being enslaved and all of the potential victims were Hispanic, Vietnamese, Iranian and Korean women.
Although some misconceptions exist of victims of human trafficking as uneducated or always of foreign descent, according to Krietner, this is not always the case.
“The scariest national trend I have recently heard is that perpetrators are grooming high school boys to sell their girlfriends for $1,000 a pop,” Krietner said anonymous source in Special Forces told her.
In many cases victims are targeted when they are most vulnerable and promised things such as shelter, food, love and security. In most of these cases those being targeted are told they have to work to pay of their debt, which is usually set at a cost so high they could never pay it back, according to Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI.
“This is a pervasive, huge business, fueled by poverty and grief, “Smith said. “We hope to educate both women and men because 79 percent of human trafficking victims are women being trafficked by men.”
The federal government estimates that annually around 20,000 people are trafficked into the U. S., Eimiller said. This modern form of slavery happens in various situations from migrant farmers to household servants, but in all case the abuse is both physical and mental.
In August 2009, 12 were arrested in a human trafficking case where a Westminster man was running a brothel in Garden Grove. Eleven Vietnamese women were suspected of prostitution, while working at a massage parlor in the 9800 block of Katella Avenue.
“Human trafficking is such a profitable business because you buy a human being and can sell them 30 to 40 times a day,” Krietner said. “These women are with us not because they made bad choices, but because they had choices made for them.”
For more information on human trafficking visit Grandma’s House of Hope at http://grandmashope.org/.