Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 36
SLO church group's Justice Summit will address human trafficking
BY TREVER DIAS
The term “abolitionist” is one people may associate with history long past. But that’s all the more reason why a group of parishioners from Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo dedicated to the fight against human trafficking chose to call themselves the Mountainbrook Abolitionists.
Group founder Rebecca Turner said she felt compelled to do something about the problem of human trafficking after attending the 2012 Justice Conference in Portland, Ore., an annual meeting that focuses on social justice.
With the stated objective of “bringing awareness to, and action against, modern-day slavery,” the group meets regularly on the second and fourth Mondays of every month at 7 p.m. at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo. Though it’s a faith-based group, it’s open to the public and to people of all religious backgrounds.
“There’s a spot for everyone, and we need everybody,” Turner told the Sun.
Part of the group’s efforts includes organizing the upcoming Justice Summit, which takes place Nov. 15 through 17 at the church at 1775 Calle Joaquin in SLO. Featuring 10 speakers from advocacy groups across the state, the summit will include six talks on a range of topics related to human trafficking, four interactive workshops focusing on responsible consumerism, and resources for first responders, faith-based organizations, and business leaders.
In addition, the summit will present a production of the play Letters From My Mother by Udaya Kanthi Salgadu at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 15, featuring cast members who are actual survivors of human trafficking. Salgadu based the play on her own experiences, having been forced to move from her native Sri Lanka to Los Angeles, where she said she was made to work without pay as a nanny and housekeeper for more than two years.
According to the organization Free the Slaves, there are an estimated 21 to 30 million people currently held in slavery worldwide. In 2012, a Paso Robles couple was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $600,000 in restitution in a case in which they admitted to luring Filipino nationals to the United States under false pretenses, and forcing them to work under slave-like conditions at elder care facilities the couple owned.
Tracy Schiro, assistant social services director for SLO County, told the Sun that other instances of human trafficking, specifically in the form of underage prostitution, have also occurred locally. Schiro believes that underage prostitutes should be treated as victims of trafficking rather than criminals.
“They can’t give consent to prostitution,” Schiro said. “These are kids; these are children under the age of 18.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 12 years old. And though more recent numbers aren’t available, based upon a 1994 National Institute of Justice report, sexually abused children are 28 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution than those who haven’t been abused.
But Schiro already sees a shift in how these cases are treated, due in part to the efforts of advocacy groups such as those participating in the Justice Summit.