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Hidden in plain sight: Rotary speaker warns of dangers of human trafficking

Steve Pomeroy/ Rotary Club of Los Altos
Betty Ann Boeving addresses the Los Altos Rotary Club Jan. 16.

Betty Ann Boeving, founder and executive director of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition, warned members of the Rotary Club of Los Altos Jan. 16 that human trafficking has grown into a $32 billion industry that plagues not only distant developing countries, but also the Bay Area.

“Human trafficking in the Bay Area is hidden in plain sight here in Los Altos, Mountain View, Los Gatos and beyond,” she said, defining it as “modern-day slavery.”

Boeving estimated that 50 percent of human trafficking victims are children and 80 percent are female, totaling 23 million victims worldwide.

In Silicon Valley, she noted, victims may be forced into domestic servitude as nannies or maids, child labor in restaurants or sex trafficking in nail salons and massage parlors.

Human traffickers may attempt to hide suspicious activity by using a legitimate business as a front, such as a massage parlor, she said.

Impact close to home

The perpetrators of human trafficking may appear innocent, Boeving cautioned. One nicely maintained Silicon Valley house, for example, aroused suspicion when a neighbor noticed that there were bars inside, not outside, the windows. Even in Los Altos, Boeving added, the parents of a high school student sold their daughter for sex. The girl, who escaped only after going away to college, has since appeared as a speaker at the Freedom Summit human trafficking conference.

Victims may include domestic workers, young people selling fruit on corners and children selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door, Boeving said. In a Menlo Park case, the police caught traffickers dropping off a young girl at a church after the service to beg among parishioners.

Some violent video games, like Grand Theft Auto, may desensitize children to violence against women, prompting Boeving to suggest that parents be alert to attitudes forming within their families.

Californians approved Proposition 35, the ban on human trafficking and sex slavery, by an 81 percent margin in 2012, the largest initiative victory in state history. A concerted effort by individuals, communities and nonprofit groups is needed to defeat human trafficking, Boeving said.

San Jose International Airport personnel have been trained to recognize human trafficking by people posing as sports coaches, field trip leaders or even aunts and uncles. Other personnel with heightened awareness should include school staff, medical first responders and local legislators.

Boeving recommended that corporations investigate their supply chains for labor violations in source countries. In their own homes, consumers may unknowingly support human trafficking via their product purchases and should check to ensure that companies with slave-free supply chains market the products they buy.

Boeving noted that coffee, chocolate, tea, rice, sugar and hygiene products like shampoo should display the Fair Trade Certified logo that guarantees slave-free production.

Boeving said coordinated effort by individuals, communities and nonprofit groups could eliminate human trafficking within one generation.

“We are all needed to send the message to traffickers that they will be stopped – the Bay Area is a place where they can’t do business,” she said.

For more information, visit baatc.org.

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos.

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