By Rylie Barber
This article is the first in a series UHS News will be publishing examining sex trafficking in the Mendocino County region.
According to the California Department of Justice, “Human trafficking is among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises and is estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global industry.” In addition, the International Labor Organization estimates that worldwide, there are, “4.8 million victims of sexual exploitation.” The statistics are disturbing. It begs the question of how close this horrific practice is to home? UHS News consulted Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall and Lieutenant Shannon Barney to find out more about the threat of sex trafficking in Mendocino County, who is most likely to become a victim, and what parents need to know to protect their children from this chilling fate.
As stated in section 136.1 of the California Penal Code, “A person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, procure or sell the individual for commercial sex, or exploit the individual in obscene matter, is guilty of human trafficking.”
When asked about his perception of local sex trafficking, Sheriff Kendall said, “I think that we have a lot of sex trafficking.” He went on to explain that “We have a lot of people who have been brought over the border by coyotes that are working for cartels.”
Lieutenant Barney, when asked the same question, said, “It is not as prevalent here but with more and more drugs and drug gangs coming in, it will become worse.” He later elaborated on this point by saying, “As society degrades, these types of crimes become more prevalent.”
According to David Spener’s Clandestine Crossings: Migrants and Coyotes on the Texas-Mexico Border, a coyote is a person who has been paid to illegally smuggle something over the border.
Sheriff Kendall said, “We see a lot of people who are trafficked from foreign countries, and that includes China through the Port of Oakland, that includes Russia, and that includes Mexico.”
Sheriff Kendall described a sex trafficking event that took place within the last few years: “[i]t is like a circuit where a lot of these prostitutes will work Sacramento all the way up Interstate Five. They come back and work down the 101 into the Bay Area.” Sheriff Kendall added that “There were several websites where sex trafficking was occurring.”
99.4% of sex trafficking victims are young girls and women, as stated by the California Department of Justice. When asked if certain populations are more likely to be victimized by traffickers, Sheriff Kendall answered, “whether it be you’re a slave to drugs, you’re a slave to the cartels because of your transportation across the border, anything that makes you a slave makes people vulnerable for this.”
Sheriff Kendall told a story to demonstrate the power of strength to overcome adversity: he recalled an article he had read about a mother who had lifted a car off of her child. It had run over and parked on the child. “The mother, who was a hundred and thirty pounds, lifted a vehicle off of her child. There is something that is so strong in the human psyche…Primal thinking is what keeps our species alive.” Sheriff Kendall worries that “…drugs somehow destroy primal thought…When you see children who are abused, children who are neglected, 99% of the time, it is due to some kind of addiction.” Sheriff Kendall believes that an individual suffering from addiction is crippled by the need for drugs making them more likely to become a victim of trafficking. Furthermore, children of drug users are more likely to be trafficked due to the decline of primal parental instincts that often accompany heavy usage of drugs.
According to Sheriff Kendall, “Anyone who enters the country illegally…could be trafficked.” This is due to their proximity to cartels at the border.
Lieutenant Barney connected the majority of Mendocino County’s sex trafficking victims to the use of drugs. “Sex trafficking is a very serious crime with most victims around here being involved in marijuana and drug trades.” Lieutenant Barney notes, “It’s more prevalent in minority communities along the southern border and large cities, but no one is immune to it.” Lieutenant Barney also warned that “most are taken during illegal immigration” and that “some children have been kidnapped for and by criminal organizations.”
Sheriff Kendall encourages parents to build strength and resilience in their children to defend against the potential of sex trafficking: “One of the things that we have not been doing a good job on in the United States is building resilient children.” He continued, stating that “[w]e have people saying that violence is not okay in any situation.” He explained that “I can name dozens of situations where if people hadn’t gotten violent, they would have been kidnapped. They would have been hurt. Violence in the defense of yourself or the defense of another is absolutely acceptable.”
Sheriff Kendall argued Mendocino County residents need to practice self-reliance and to teach it to their children: “[w]hen you get out into areas like Mendocino County where I have one deputy per every six-hundred square miles, you had better be able to take care of yourself until the cops arrive.” He claims that people are being raised as “victims,” which puts them into extremely vulnerable and precarious situations: “When you call 911, there is not a three-minute response. There’s a twenty-minute response. In some areas, there’s a two-hour response. We have to start building people to be more resilient.”
Sheriff Kendall also articulated his opinion on gun laws, saying, “Anyone who owns a firearm they’re looked at like they’re bad people, and it’s not true…That’s like me picking up a rock, throwing it and hitting a man in the head, and somebody trying to blame the rock.” Sheriff Kendall expressed concern that “we’re beginning to have legislation come out saying that you can’t protect your family.”
Overall, Sheriff Kendall advises parents of Mendocino County to teach children to be resilient, to explain to children that self-defense is sometimes necessary, to teach children not to involve themselves with drugs. Lieutenant Barney felt the same way about drugs, saying, “Parents can teach their children to not do any drugs or hang out with people who are in that scene.” He also advised that you should “Never travel alone if you can help it and be aware of your surroundings.” Finally, he said that “If you have a bad feeling about a person or group, listen to it and leave.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888)373-7388.