My daughter returned this last winter from a trip to Nicaragua, where she spent time volunteering at the House of Hope. The heart wrenching stories she told me of 5-year-old girls being sold to prostitution houses and held as sex prisoners were chilling.
She told me of a courageous man who works with the House of Hope and raids these prostitution prisons and frees these girls, bringing them to safety at the House of Hope. This is sex trafficking, and up until a short time ago was the universal definition.
Scenes like ones depicted in the movie "Taken" were what the world thought of when sex trafficking was mentioned. Women held as prisoners, forced to join houses of prostitution or being held as private sex slaves. This activity occurs in almost every country in the world, including the U.S.
Federal legislation has now changed the definition of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking now includes just about every form of prostitution and exploitation of women.
Along with the new definition, large grants were made available to study the issue. I do not condone or approve of any prostitution or exploitation of women, but to call it all sex trafficking diminishes the horrible fate of women and girls around the world sold into sex slavery.
Some people in our valley equate girls who voluntarily join a gang with an initiation rite of sex with multiple gang members as sex trafficking. I think this is exploitation of a minor and at time rape of a child, and is a hideous ritual, but it is not sex trafficking. These same people are shocked when these same gangs participate in prostitution for money or payment for services using female gang members. This is a practice like being "sexed in," that has been going on for decades in gangs. It is despicable, but it is not sex trafficking.
The girls voluntarily join the gang and go home every night. I understand that threats and drugs are often used to get cooperation, but they are not imprisoned or sold into prostitution. In fact, the local poster girl for "gang sex trafficking" in our valley had her story told in local news coverage. The story says she forced her way past her mother and left with her boyfriend and has not been heard from since. They suspect sex trafficking, but they don't know. This is a tragedy for any parent, but sex trafficking?
No matter what we call the exploitation of girls and women, I think we can all agree that we need to work to end it.
This is what bothers me so much about the current effort being championed by Rev. Cameron Garcia. I spent well over an hour with him and listened to his point of view. I told him I disagreed with his definition but offered my enthusiastic service to bring to justice anyone abusing or exploiting girls or women. He claimed to have interviewed victims of sex trafficking and other abuse. I offered again and again to set up interviews with female police officers to take the report and put the animals who hurt young girls in a cage where they belong.
He refused. I then asked what it was that he wanted to happen. He said he wanted awareness of the problem. "Awareness?" Nothing else?
Rev. Garcia wants you all aware of this symptom of the gang life. I, on the other hand, want to end the disease of gangs.
The entire Sunnyside City Council working with the police department and Deputy Chief Phil Schenck's gang elimination plan has drastically cut crime and violence in our community. I intend to continue toward the goal of making this the safest city in Washington state.
We will see which strategy improves Sunnyside and saves more young women: a media campaign for "awareness," or law enforcement action that takes the thugs off the street who are victimizing these girls.
- Sunnyside Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger, a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was employed for three years as a peace officer assigned to a school district in California in an administrative role designing and implementing gang prevention, intervention and suppression strategies; and was employed for three years as the school safety coordinator for the Sunnyside School District, designing and implementing gang prevention, intervention and suppression programs.