The grim reality of human trafficking Expert tells youth it’s a growing problem in the Salinas Valley and Monterey County

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By Noah Canchola

The Salinas Valley and Monterey County are hot spots for human trafficking, according to a local expert. Human trafficking is the illegal transportation of people, usually for forced labor.

Deborah Pembrook, a human trafficking outreach manager with the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, spoke about the topic earlier this year at an event at La Paz Middle School.

During a one-on-one interview and the workshop at La Paz, Pembrook presented evidence indicating that prostitution-related human trafficking is widespread in the Salinas Valley.

She said that human trafficking isn’t always a case of simple kidnapping. “Human traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to manipulate and lure their victims,” said Pembrook. Therefore, every human trafficking case is different, and all victims have a different story.

Pembrook stressed that such “force, fraud, and coercion” is used to get women to act as prostitutes in the area.  ”The media often portrays this as an issue that is predominately about kidnapping,” she said. “Almost all the data reflects that only a small subset of people are entered into human trafficking by kidnapping.”

Psychological coercion is involved. Sometimes people think “Oh, if it’s not something like kidnapping or from the Taken movies it’s probably not as serious,” but this violence is serious.

In Pembrook’s workshop, she talked about an encounter someone had with a human trafficker in our community. A local teacher ran into one of her former students, and he had mentioned that he “sold goods.” Weeks later, she discovered that he was selling people.

Warning signs are quite complex, Pembrook explained: “Well, the first thing to say is that this is a crime that is very much based on psychological corrosion. So what are the signs of psychological corrosion? Well, there aren’t always these big giant red flags. There are some things that could be concerning; it depends on the context.

“An example, if one were talking with doctors, having a controlling third party that is answering questions for someone else, someone who holds documents for that person, or a situation where the person who would typically be answering those ‘how are you feeling?’ kinds of questions is being spoken for. It often depends on the context.

“Warning signs for youth could be someone who has access to a cell phone that doesn’t come from a family member. If someone is providing that to a youth, they probably have a reason as to why. Having unexpected goods that are out of line for what they can afford. Being excessively tired is a big warning sign, but the main one is a controlling third party.”

Pembrook said the simple fact is that human trafficking victims can look like anyone.

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Noah Canchola

About Noah Canchola

Noah Canchola from Soledad is a journalist, student, and animal lover.