CALEXICO — Soroptomist International of Calexico spotlighted the critical issue of human trafficking during its third annual Stop Human Trafficking Awareness Rally and Vigil off Imperial Avenue early Friday evening.
“Our location on California’s international border with Mexico offers Soroptomist International of Calexico the opportunity to raise awareness about human sex trafficking within the greater Imperial and Mexicali valleys,” said Marty Guillen, Soroptimist International of Calexico president. “Although much attention is focused on the trafficking of drugs and illegal immigration in our community, the issue of human trafficking is rarely addressed.”
Guest speaker and Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero underscored the importance of raising awareness in the Valley community due to the fact that it is a corridor for human trafficking.
He advised people to be vigilant and aware of their communities as well as underscored the importance of collaboration with law enforcement to combat the issue.
The Calexico High School marching band volunteered time to play songs and also had members read topical facts during the event.
Calexico Police Chief Jim Neujahr said that while it’s a common misconception that human trafficking only occurs in developing countries, “the United States is one of the world’s chief destinations for human trafficking.”
As a lengthy line of cars headed up and down Imperial Avenue, more than 50 volunteers of all ages held signs advocating for the end of human trafficking.
“Victims of human trafficking are too afraid to seek help and many of us do not recognize the extent of a problem hidden in plain sight,” he said, reminding the audience that victims come from all backgrounds and ages.
Neujahr also reviewed signs of possible victims including injuries or indications of physical abuse, malnourishment, disorientation, absence of identification, fear of authority figures and inability to regularly come and go independently.
“Since human trafficking thrives on secrecy, the more you know, the more you can do to prevent it,” he said. “We have a responsibility to protect our neighbors, our communities and our fellow humans.”
Calexico Mayor Maritza Hurtado praised the rally efforts.
“I thank Soroptimist of Calexico for bringing awareness to our border community about this devastating and complex crime of sex trafficking which largely affects women and girls,” she said.
Soroptimist has identified four areas to be addressed as part of its ongoing efforts since 2007 to end sex slavery: raising awareness, providing victim services, slavery prevention and improved law advocacy.
Between 12.3 and 27 million people are enslaved worldwide with 79 percent forced into sexual servitude. Sixty-six percent of them are women and 13 percent are girls with the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. 12 to 14, according to Soroptimist International.
Visit www.humantrafficking.org for more information. If you suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour toll-free hotline at 888-373-7888.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or email@example.com