Sex trafficking and human trafficking are very serious issues...they both most definitely exist here in the Yakima Valley and all over the world.
As Americans, we would like to pretend it doesn't happen in our back yard or that those who are involved in the sex trades have made a conscious decision to become the object of a number of sickos "out there."
Perhaps, some who are in the sex trade have chosen to sell their bodies without objection, but there are many out there forced or coerced into having sex because they believe they have no choice.
In the Yakima Valley, we are proud to live in rural communities, seemingly without the problems of big cities. The truth is we do have many of the problems of big cities, but denial is a wonderful thing.
Everyone is aware there are gang problems, and many seek solutions that will curtail the gang activity. Sadly, with the gang activity there are many criminal enterprises.
Those not in the dark about gangs know there are weapons and drugs in the hands of those who choose such a lifestyle. The communities in the Lower Valley have not ignored these problems because they are in the faces of citizens living in the communities.
What some choose to ignore is the sex trade industry that is prevalent among gangs, as well. There are some who choose to stick their heads in the sand and tell themselves, "It's not real because I don't see it and it isn't my child. These children go home every night so they must be choosing the lifestyle they want."
There are others in our community, however, who have brought the problem to light but are being cast as trouble makers and over glorifying this problem.
These are our children for goodness sakes! All children deserve a chance in life and are vulnerable in some way. The fact that some of the victims of sex trafficking are victimized at the hands of their own family and community members should make everyone in the community sick. If they are under the age of 18-years-old, they are children and they are the responsibility of every adult that comes in contact with them. The children in our community deserve protection regardless of the "choices" they have made.
The innocence of any victim of sexual abuse is robbed from them and it is our duty, as a community, to stop this from happening. It is our duty to intervene.
But, what is worse for me is that some city leaders have been made aware of the problem and have made choices that could further victimize these youngsters.
I was disheartened to hear the claims from Pastor Cameron Garcia of Sunnyside's Oasis Community Church a couple of weeks ago when he spoke before the Sunnyside City Council. To learn our deputy mayor, Don Vlieger, had used the term crack whores or coke whores to describe these children in our community who have been coerced into having sex so that gangs can profit from those actions...well, let's just say I was a bit shocked.
Calling anyone, regardless of gender or lifestyle, such vile words, in any context whatsoever, is simply wrong. And for a public official, especially someone like Vlieger with the title of deputy mayor, to describe anyone in such a manner is abhorrent. I don't care if the phrase is street lingo or not...it is dehumanizing and says that the individual has absolutely no value in the eyes of the person using such language.
I haven't always agreed with the tactics of certain city officials, including Vlieger. I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe I have been respectful towards the council members no matter what opinion was held.
But, I find it difficult to respect anyone that believes it is okay to dehumanize another person, especially children.
For that reason, I believe the public needs to take a stance like Garcia did and, at least, demand a sincere apology from the deputy mayor...not an excuse or an explanation for his actions.