While many local residents don’t see it here, human trafficking occurs throughout the Bay Area, Frances Byrne of Freedom House told members of the Los Altos Kiwanis Club last week.
Byrne said the Bay Area is a major center for human trafficking, defined as the illegal exchange of humans for forced and paid exploitation – be it sex, labor or otherwise.
Traffickers hide their workers under the radar in San Francisco and other regional cities because of the ethnic diversity here, according to Byrne, deputy director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Freedom House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping survivors recuperate.
Human trafficking is a lucrative, illicit industry, bringing in $32 billion annually, Byrne said at the Aug. 1 Kiwanis meeting. Many of the victims were duped into becoming sex workers, with some lured to the U.S. with the promise of housing, a paid job and the ability to send money home, Byrne noted. Instead, they end up as indentured servants or sex slaves – powerless and moneyless in a new city where they may not even know the language.
Freedom House provides a home for up to 18 months for trafficking victims, offering them aftercare services including therapy, medical care and occupational resources.
The average age of a person entering sex slavery in the U.S. is 12, Byrne said, with many of the children coming from abusive or broken homes.
To raise funds for Bay Area human trafficking survivors, Freedom House has organized a benefit concert featuring pianist John Baeg. The 15-year-old from Cupertino studies at The Juilliard School. The concert is scheduled 2 p.m. Aug. 26 at Bridges Community Church, 626 Magdalena Ave., Los Altos. Tickets are $10-$20.
For tickets and more information on Freedom House, visit freedomhousesf.org.