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May 9, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
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Ministry of Caring coordinator Sandy Heinisch, left, and Brentwood detectives Jaclyn Veillette and Mike Maanao answer questions during the human trafficking educational event at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

Brentwood parish learns about human trafficking

Penal Code 236
"Any person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, is guilty of human trafficking."

Human trafficking could be happening under your own roof, those familiar with the subject told more than 150 people, many of them parents and grandparents, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Brentwood on April 16.

Inspired by the call of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, for each parish to learn more about human trafficking, Immaculate Heart of Mary's Ministry of Caring put together its own program, presenting a half-dozen speakers, including police officers, an assistant district attorney and a Roman Catholic Sister, who not only called the community to action, but provided concrete tips for it.

Debra Brown founded Pillars of Hope, which plans to open a place of recovery and rehabilitation in Contra Costa County for human trafficking victims over the age of 18.

Brown told of signs to look for in vulnerable children, such as "grades slipping, new tattoos or clothing style change."

Who might be vulnerable?

Any 12- or 14-year-old who posts, "I hate my mom" or "Nobody understands me" on social media.

Traffickers can reach them easily through social media, she cautioned.

"Know where your children are," she told the audience. "Malls are not safe for girls unless they're in groups of five or more.

Traffickers are savvy, she said. "They know what to look for," she said. "They know how to manipulate and get in their heads."

She warned of "Romeo"-types, who may befriend a girl, who believes he is now her boyfriend.

While the Brentwood detectives said human trafficking there does not look like it does in Oakland and San Francisco, traffickers do reach out through social media.

"Any child may be vulnerable to someone who promises to meet their emotional or physical needs," said Detective Mike Maanao.

The hold the traffickers have on the girls is strong. "They'll go to jail in lieu of giving up their pimp," said Detective Jaclyn Veillette.

This makes those cases difficult to prosecute, said Deputy District Attorney Aron DeFerrari.

"Most of the time they want to return to the life, the game, because that's all they know," he said.

Cases can be difficult to prosecute, too, because jurors may question the credibility of the victims who are willing to testify, he said. Defense attorneys "blame my victim," he said. "They shame them."

DeFerrari called on the community to write their state legislators to make human trafficking a "strike" offense.

Regina Wilkerson, representing the Ladies of St. Peter Claver, was among the members of the audience. She reminded the audience that they have another weapon in the fight against human trafficking: their spirituality. "Call on St. Peter Claver as an intercessor," she urged.

She attended the meeting to show support for Bishop Barber's initiative, as one of the recent signatories to a document supporting efforts to end human trafficking.

"We need to take back our responsibility to educate our children," she said, "and tell them about the spiritual resources that are greater than any of our physical resources. There is a God, and if you are in trouble, call upon His name and by any means necessary He will get you out of that trouble."

Lester Higaki, a board member of Pillars of Hope, said reducing the market for sex is critical. "If no one paid, it would go away," he said of human trafficking. He encouraged men to speak to other men, and if there are underlying problems, such as sex addiction, "give him a little grace and mercy and help him change his way of looking at women."

In a videotaped presentation, Sister Barbara Nixon, SNJM, encouraged people to educate themselves about human trafficking, and to look for suspicious activities in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in businesses and while traveling. She offered the human trafficking hotline — 888-373-7888 — to call with tips.

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