It’s Time to Raise the Cost of Human Trafficking - Women's Foundation California
Daphne Phung

By Daphne Phung, Executive Director & Founder of California Against Slavery

This June, I went on a police undercover sting that targeted sex trafficking of girls in Oakland. What I saw was surreal. Young girls waiting at every street corner along the “track” to hop into cars with adult men, some old enough to be their grandfathers. The undercover officers would pick up one girl, then circle the block and find three more walking up.

The sun was still out as families and professionals cruised by, ignoring this pervasive sex trade. I was shocked by their disregard. Did they think the girls were criminals who made a choice to prostitute themselves? As the Executive Director and Founder of California Against Slavery, a non-partisan, grassroots organization that fights against human trafficking in California, I have heard over and over again that these girls are not choosing this life—they are forced into it.

One of our volunteers, Carissa, was only 12 years old when she was abandoned by her family and picked up by a man who sold her to truckers in Fresno. Her only “escape” from him was being thrown in juvenile hall two years later. The man was never imprisoned for capturing or trading her.

Thousands of children –mostly girls – are sold for sex in California and throughout the United States each year. Most of them are between 12 to 14 years old. Unlike drugs, a girl can be sold over and over again. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, most runaways are solicited by a sex trafficker within 48 hours.

Unlike Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, many sex trafficking victims are never even reported as missing. No one is looking for them. The only people paying attention are the men who are buying and selling them or the police who are arresting and releasing them back to their perpetrators. Their exploitation often continues in silence until they die or are no longer desirable…or they turn into the perpetrators of the next generation. This, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of our time. Whether we like it or not, whether we recognize it or not, human trafficking is happening in every community throughout California and our nation, from big cities to quiet suburbs. The internet has fueled its rapid growth by making buying and selling girls easier and less risky than ever before.

That is why California Against Slavery is working to pass a ballot initiative in 2012 that addresses the severe issue of human trafficking in our state. If passed, the initiative will impose higher prison terms and fines of up to $1.5 million for traffickers, which will go towards funding victim services. This law will also mandate law enforcement training and require the disclosure of sex offenders’ internet accounts.

It is our moral obligation to take action against human trafficking and its epidemic abuse of women and children. To place the initiative on the 2012 ballot, we must collect over 750,000 voter signatures in 5 months, starting November 2011. Please visit to find out more.

The Women’s Foundation of California’s Women of Color Donor Circle is proud to have supported California Against Slavery this year with a grant of $7500. 


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