Human sex trafficking in the San Jacinto Valley

It’s not just hardcore pimps anymore…it could be your coworker or neighbor

Photo by Debbie Vena/The Valley Chronicle
Local bus shelters now exhibit posters to provide awareness and assistance to victims of human trafficking.

■ By Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter

Human trafficking generates between $32 billion to $42.5 billion per year worldwide, depending upon the government source, and it is happening right here, in our own city. In the United States, human trafficking generates between $5 billion to $9 billion annually, and that dollar amount keeps rising.
In 2008, the United Nations estimated that 2.5 million people from 127 countries were trafficked. The average age for trafficked boys is 8 and for girls it is 11. About half of the females trafficked worldwide are under the legal age of consent.
Human trafficking is not just about bringing people across borders and selling them. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

Mind games and manipulation keep victims in line
Pimps use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to seduce and manipulate their victims. This way, they make the victims believe that they are prostituting of their own free will and that they want to be working. The victims are manipulated by the pimp to the point that they end up protecting the pimp and will not ask for help, even in very public places.
Upon initial contact, if the victim does not have any obvious vulnerabilities, the pimp will try to break the victim down to create one, then build them back up. This scenario is also typical of abusive domestic relationships. The pimp then becomes the hero who built them up, even though they were initially the one who broke the victim down. However, the victim is so manipulated by that point, that he/she doesn’t ever see that. The pimp and his prostitutes create a family-like structure, giving the victim’s “family stability” and even “love” that they were not getting at home. Yes, this is a lot of work for the trafficker to go through, but imagine the payoff.
The Center Against Sexual Assault (CASA) human trafficking outreach worker explained that this is not like a drug transaction where the drugs are sold then consumed. Because once consumed, drugs cannot be resold. However, with human trafficking, the product (in this case, boys and girls) can be sold many times a day, every day.
From the trafficker’s perspective, there is a high return on investment. But what are the repercussions? Survivors of human trafficking suffer from PTSD, at the very minimum. The mental, physical and emotional trauma they experience is horrific. Pimps, male or female, use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is broken down into five categories, to tear down their victims:

1. Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Love needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love, being part of a group (family, friends, work).
4. Esteem needs – achievement, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

The San Jacinto Valley is a hotbed for trafficking
Why San Jacinto Valley? Because it is still a fairly rural community. There are many quiet back roads in and out of this valley. As we can see, activity is taking place at bus stops, motels/hotels, truck stops, massage businesses, etc. There are known strips of prostitution.
In Hemet, this area is Florida Avenue. It was revealed in an interview with CASA’s human trafficking outreach worker that victims are also being imported into Hemet from San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, out of state, and from even further away, for just a day or two at a time. Why do this? The idea is to keep the sex trafficking victims disoriented regarding time and location so that they do not gain any stability – which prevents them from thinking about goals and a life of their own. Many victims are branded with tattoos. Before, hands were tattooed with symbols. Now, we are seeing victims tattooed with bar codes.
How do we know it’s here? Many storefront massage parlors are used for sex transactions. Ai Spa was one example. And if further proof is needed, just last month, a Hemet man, Eliberto Cruz Jacobo, was convicted of 60 felony counts, including human trafficking of a minor, inducing or persuading a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, statutory rape and possession of child pornography. Seven underage victims were involved. Jacobo used Facebook to lure his victims. He is scheduled for sentencing May 5.

How does the advertising work?

Just because a woman is wearing skimpy clothing does not mean that she is prostituting and just because she is prostituting doesn’t mean she will be wearing skimpy clothes. Massage businesses are interwoven with motels and these businesses line Florida Avenue. However, the statistics on trafficking are difficult to collect because a good portion of the time, the victims do not even realize they are victims.
All advertising is online – Backpage and Craig’s List are notorious for these ads – and appointments are usually set up prior to their arrival. The city of Hemet created ordinances (Chapter 18, Article VII – Massage, Sec 18-211 – Sec 18-233) for massage businesses, but if one visits www.backpage.com, a multitude of locations pop up in Hemet and San Jacinto, not to mention surrounding areas. There are also ordinances regarding adult businesses and adult business performers (Chapter 18, Articles X and XI).
Hemet City Council making strides to comply
The Hemet City Council amended ordinance bill 17-015 regarding massage parlors to become compliant with state law. In addition to the language, the city will require that the massage parlors post Public Notices Regarding Slavery and Human Trafficking, as stated in SB 1193 and Civil Code Section 52.6 and implemented a “zero tolerance” position. Other places where victims are being recruited include online dating, social media sites and fake job advertisements online. The selling is also happening on mainstream social media sites. Facebook addresses this on one of its Help Center pages, “What should I do if someone posts something related to human trafficking?” Awareness campaigns about human trafficking are now being seen at local bus shelters.

Pimps – not your typical lowlife stereotype
The pimps and traffickers are no longer stereotypical. Pimps now include CEOs, elected officials, lawyers, local business owners, and even housewives. It’s actually a great cover. They have their legitimate day job or business that they run, and have this entire underworld enterprise on the side. In fact, on April 21 the Associated Press reported that Timothy Nolan, a 70-year-old former northern Kentucky district court judge, was just last week charged with human trafficking and first- and third-degree unlawful transaction with a minor. Nolan’s preliminary hearing is set for May 5.
The victims do not get any of the money that they make for themselves. The pimp/trafficker controls all of the money. Victims barely eat. However, they may be given a roof over their head to sleep at night, and for that they are grateful. If the pimp/trafficker thinks it is worth the investment, then they might give the victim money to get their hair and nails done. They may get the victims gifts on occasion, but that is just to further the manipulation.
It is common that to keep the victims from escaping, the trafficker will tell the victims that if they leave, their family members will be killed. And it’s a fallacy that victims are only from poor or low income neighborhoods. Victims come from all diverse backgrounds.

Homelessness and high incidents of sexual assault
Are human trafficking and homelessness related? Yes. There is the issue of drug addiction on the streets. In some cases, if a person was addicted to drugs before they came into the streets, they are pulled into trafficking to maintain their addiction. If they were not addicted prior to entering the streets, then the goal is to befriend them, gain their trust and get them addicted, so they can prostitute and peddle drugs for the trafficker.
Women on the streets are sexually assaulted on a constant basis. The pimp/trafficker may offer them a place to sleep for the night, so that they can get some sleep instead of taking drugs to stay up all night, trying to avoid being sexually assaulted.

How can we help?
In order to combat human sex trafficking, a multi-agency approach is necessary. Government grants, found at www.grants.gov, are available to “support local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to form task forces, conduct training, coordinate the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, and build partnerships with victim service providers and private entities. Grants are available for services, treatment and housing for trafficking victims, as well as grants to assess the trafficking in various geographic locations.

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