Fourteen years ago, I drove across country with my friend Jung for three days straight from Nashville to Berkeley. We moved to the bay area to start new lives -- find jobs, friends, partners, our future. Jung and I had great dreams, many we've realized over the past decade. I have always been proud to call progressive, liberal San Francisco my adopted home, until now. I was horrified to learn that San Francisco is one of the major centers for international crime networks that smuggle and enslave women. Just the words "human trafficking" I find shocking and sickening.
This multibillion-dollar business is growing rapidly. The smugglers promise young women lucrative modeling, hostess, or service jobs within the hotel and restaurant industry. They agree with the hope of finally escaping their disadvantaged circumstances to lead better lives in America. Once they arrive, they are sold to strip clubs, brothels, and outcall services and extorted into working off surprise travel debts to their owners. How does this continue to go on unnoticed and unchecked, you ask?
These criminal organizations are very well-organized. Their operations ensure that countless children and young adults will be enslaved prostitutes until they die or suffer the long-term effects of abuse and post-traumatic disorder. Now imagine their families back in Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Central and South America. Imagine the faces of their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and grandparents wondering where their daughters, sisters and granddaughters have vanished. Now imagine how absolutely powerless they feel to do anything about their missing loved ones. But you, yes you, can do something right now.
February 29 is the petition deadline for the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act slated for the November 2012 Statewide General Election ballot. This act will strengthen penalties against human trafficking and improve Megan's Law against online predators. Your signature could help place the CASE Act measure on the November ballot. Won't you please take a few moments of your time to sign it? Then write to Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier and ask them to help end human trafficking. If we stand united, we can help to stop this appalling industry from continuing to grow.
When I look at our beautiful city, I don't want to imagine this hidden underground of terrified young people chained, locked away in basements, monitored by cameras, and suffering, but hoping someone, anyone will care enough to rescue them. Their owners terrorize and intimidate them with fear tactics and humiliation to force them into submission and to work off their so-called debts. It's time we revealed them for the monsters they truly are and brought them to justice for their crimes against humanity. I think of the faces of the young women tortured, abused, and forced to perform sexual favors day after day. Then I remember Jung and I crossing the New Mexico desert dreaming of our future, a future they have been denied. Please sign this petition and attend the California Against Slavery meeting at Golden Gate University on Feb. 29 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. for more ways that you can help.
For more information, please contact the following organizations to donate or volunteer your time to this critical cause:
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies and a regular contributor to Daily Candy, 7x7, Red Tricycle, and The Children's Book Review. For more details, visit www.nickirichesin.com.