From sex slaves snatched from the hills in Thailand to agricultural workers in Southern California enslaved and exploited, the San Clemente Abolitionists are working to end human trafficking.
And the San Clemente station on the modern-day Underground Railroad serves wine and cheese.
Monday night, owner Dawn Mendick—one of the abolitionists’ core five members—opened up her restaurant/wine bar to the public to hear from expert from the International Justice Mission. The mission has teams of investigators, lawyers and other professionals who gather evidence, protect victims and shepherd cases against traffickers through often corrupt legal systems worldwide.
Amy Stumpf, a professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University who runs the IJM chapter there, said that a huge number of calls to the Polaris Project, a hotline to report suspected human trafficking, come from the West Coast.
“About 40 percent of calls to Polaris comes from California,” she said. “This needs to be our issue.”
Stumpf pointed to efforts in her home county—the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Experts are organizing professionals who work in areas where slavery may be a problem. For instance, people who empty the portable toilets at agricultural sites would learn to look for large, unconnected outbuildings in the fields where slaves could be imprisoned. A building inspector could be trained to look for outside locks on the room doors at massage parlors where women could be imprisoned as sex slaves.
Stumpf said that often in Southern California, agricultural workers who come into the country illegally from Mexico and South America end up as victims of criminal street gangs.
“Local gangs have intercepted agricultural workers,” she said. “They have separated families, they extort, unthinkable things.”
On a worldwide level, Stumpf said India has the worst human trafficking problem because of internal corruption and lax rule-of-law.
“India really needs to be cleaned up,” she said.
IJM estimates there are 27 million slaves worldwide, half under age18. Two million of those are children in the commercial sex trade.
One way to help in efforts against slavery is to write legislators and urge them to strengthen the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons—the TIP office. Tracy Stay of San Clemente, another of the Abolitionists’ core members, said she recently made use of the TIP office at the U.S. Embassy in Tuscany, Italy, where during a vacation she encountered women being bartered as prostitutes on a road near town.
There is also legislation, set to expire in December, that Stumpf says is crucial to allow the U.S. to put pressure on regimes that fail to stop trafficking, called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The law allows the U.S. to withhold aid and enact sanctions.
If you suspect you have witnessed indications of human trafficking, call the Polaris hotline at 888-3737-888.