A majority of children victimized by human trafficking are American youth, not foreign children brought into this country, said Bradley Schoenleben, an Orange County deputy district attorney.
He and his wife, Meghan, served as co-emcees at the Fashion Island Hotel during the recent “Priceless” luncheon sponsored by Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice.
The subject matter for the afternoon confab was decidedly serious: fighting the scourge of human trafficking.
“So many victimized children are found online,” Schoenleben continued. “Social media is my greatest fear. The internet is the enemy, make no mistake. It is the No. 1 one tool for trafficking recruitment.”
The deputy D.A. explained that child predators prey on vulnerable youth who express signs of loneliness, disenfranchisement, feelings of inadequacy, not belonging and hopelessness.
They are targets, easy prey.
To substantiate his position, Schoenleben offered examples of “sting operations,” using authorities to pose as “friends” online tracking down vulnerable kids.
“Many people think that it would take time to convince a young person to get involved with a stranger online,” he said. “Not so. In just minutes a child can become the predator’s next victim.
“Good people out there in this room, I’m here to tell you that the sex trade of children is alive and well here in places like Newport Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Fullerton, Irvine. and the practice has no barriers of gender, race, ethnicity, income, crossing all sectors of society. Prevention is key to fighting this crime.”
Prevention, education, awareness and facing the issue head-on are the tools of Costa Mesa-based Vanguard’s Global Center for Women and Justice, which is led by director Sandra Morgan, who has dedicated her professional life to creating and growing a worldwide outreach of preventative measures combating the exploitation of women and children.
Morgan is literally on the front lines facing trafficking issues in nations on all continents. She is regularly traveling to get the message out that human slavery will only stop when the human family stands up and declares, “Enough!”
The challenge is monumental. Slavery, in one form or another, has been a stain of evil on the human condition since the outset of human dominion on the planet. The adage is appropriate: Money is the root of this evil. To take the profit out of trafficking, saving children from abuse through prevention, is step one. Then, on a worldwide platform, bringing the problem into the forefront of public outrage follows.
Morgan sends a message of hope. She believes change will come. Joining “Priceless” event co-chairs Kim Barnett and Cheryl Dale, a sold-out luncheon crowd of like-minded citizens rallied under Morgan’s battle cry, which is also focused on bringing together communities of faith to stand united in the fight.
To this end, the 2019 “Priceless” keynote speaker was Rabbi Diana Gerson, associate vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. Gerson stepped on stage and followed a Christian prayer given by Vanguard Provost Pete Menjares with a Hebrew blessing asking for God’s grace sending peace, justice and dignity for each human life.
Gerson quoted The Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.”
Following up with words from New York Times columnist David Brooks, Gerson added, “We are bound by our love for children. We are bound by a society that works for the good of all. We are bound by a love of our place, our family, community, and we are bound by our shared humanity.”
She was preaching to the proverbial choir.
“Faith communities work together,” she said. “In Hebrew, the word is ‘tzedakah.’ Many people, including many Jews, think that ‘tzedakah’ means charity, a word for giving to those less fortunate.” The essence of the meaning is justice. Charity means justice for those less fortunate.”
The inspirational afternoon was made possible by dedicated co-chairs Kim Barnett and Cheryl Dale and a committee, including Ruth Campbell, Gwyn Hoyt, Karen Rager, Katheryn Feather, Jan Landstrom, Jill Rolls, Darrellyn Melilli, Kara Noone, Ivana Shepard, Diana Erickson, Lori Peck, Helen Steinkamp, Sandra Gee, Joshua Prince and Elna Van Heerden.
Jim Dale handled fundraising auction duties with humor and compassion, invoking the help of retired St. Louis Rams player Justin Watson, who turned the auction on its ear with bidding excitement.
Vanguard’s Derek Marsh, assistant director of the Global Center for Women and Justice, joined Morgan in presenting the honorees of the annual “Priceless” luncheon, including Paul Chang, Briana Lopez, Esmeralda Romo and Mercy House.
Generous event sponsors were Barry and Karen Meguiar, Linda Prinn, Darrellyn and David Melilli, Robert and Brenda Neal, Gwyn and Bill Hoyt, Helen and Jim Steinkamp. Corporate donors included In-N-Out Burger, The Soco Group, National Christian Foundation, among many others.
Morgan summed up the purpose of the gathering best. Paraphrasing Yoda, she said, “Do or do not, but there is no room for no try!”