An advertisement placed on a Humboldt Transit Authority bus has generated some calls, said Katrina Taylor-Sims, a human trafficking survivor and anti-trafficking advocate.
“We have had a few calls already that we have responded to,” she said of the anti-trafficking hotline number that is included on the bus ad.
She said there has been a significant amount of interest in supporting the hotline, and she is hoping to schedule a training for the 24-hour hotline next month.
Taylor-Sims, who works as the awareness director at EPI, a program of the Eureka Faith Center that focuses on fighting trafficking and educating youth on the subject, says the issue is a significant one locally.
“The biggest problem is that people don’t really believe it’s going on here, which makes it more of a problem, so it can stay hidden,” she said. “(Amid COVID-19) most things are going online. Just because one online portal got shut down — just like a drug house — when one gets shut down, five more pop up. It’s a huge problem.”
She said the problem is compounded by a lack of accurate statistics.
“We don’t have accurate statistics because it goes grossly underreported,” Taylor-Sims said.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California has the highest number of human trafficking cases reported in the nation. In 2019, the national hotline received 4,820 contacts and 1,507 trafficking cases were reported in California.
The average age of victims forced into sex trafficking and prostitution is 11 to 14 years old, for both boys and girls, according to national statistics.
The Humboldt County Human Rights Commission launched a fund to address human trafficking in recent years. For 2020, the Board of Supervisors approved $20,000 to be used in the fund, a portion of which went toward setting up the trafficking hotline locally as well as the ad on the Humboldt Transit Authority bus.
The ad came about as part of a collaboration between the county Human Rights Commission, county supervisors, EPI, the Humboldt Area Foundation and local Soroptimists.
Consuelo Espinosa, the safety and ADA coordinator for HTA, said while the ad contract expires at the end of the year, the hotline number is printed inside buses permanently. She added that HTA staff were trained to recognize red flags related to trafficking as part of the effort.
Taylor-Sims noted COVID-19 has prevented some of the work she typically does working in local schools to provide students with education on how to identify red flags.
Taylor-Sims says she helps people recognize what is referred to as the “Romeo pimp,” traffickers who operate by convincing a potential victim to fall in love with them. She says in those situations one often hears the victim “take responsibility.”
“They say, ‘it’s my boyfriend and he loves me and he says we’re just going to have to do that for a little while.’ ”
She said she is working with St. Bernard’s Academy this year because it is one of the few schools that are having in-person classes. She’s also working with the law enforcement academy at the College of the Redwoods.
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.