We have reasons to be proud.
Orange County is ranked among the healthiest counties in the country and is home to some of the wealthiest large cities in America.
However, the grandest irony of all is that we have a reason to worry that is staring us in the face — not that our stable economy will fail or that the natural beauty of our sandy beaches will disappear, but that our youth will become victims of sex trafficking.
Given the recent reports in our own backyard, we need to become knowledgeable about the issue and change the way we think about sex trafficking. This problem resulted in a domestic and global large-scale trafficking system that was set up in Irvine.
The 2017 and 2018 victim demographic report from the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force reveals 365 sex trafficking cases within our county. These women are minors and minorities, many ridden with poverty that keeps them entrapped with limited opportunities to leave and receive support.
Almost 30% of the sex trafficking victims in Orange County were female minors.
The majority of these young girls were already in the legal system. These are our community members. Many of these women face poverty and discrimination. When taking a look at racial disparities, about 32% of trafficking victims identified as black and 24% as Hispanic. These numbers demonstrate the corruption that is occurring in the sexual and reproductive health of our own community.
There is a juxtaposition of wealth, safety and opportunity with the hidden dangers that our youth encounter. Young girls walk down that area of Beach Boulevard you drive by faster. They wear long sleeves to cover their bruises and other signs of abuse. They aren’t old enough to consent; they didn’t choose this life.
If you pay attention you, too, will see them, but we all know them. These victims are our minors; they are our friends; they are a part of our community.
Do the residents of Orange County have the courage to act and help end this sexual violence?
It’s time we all become aware of the issue, engage in discussions and help protect our youth. Our community values freedom, independence and opportunity, which demonstrates the need to place an emphasis on teaching our minors.
Orange County residents need to raise awareness of the issue and prevent it from occurring. This can be done through education in our schools: teaching youth a comprehensive sex education that includes what a healthy relationship looks like, social media safety, consent and warning signs of physical and emotional abuse. To ensure our youth are taught, legislation should expand on sex education requirements to target at-risk areas that have pervasive sex trafficking networks.
This action will inform our youth about the prevalence of sex trafficking, risk factors, what to look for and what resources will help if one is found in an unsafe situation.
Finally, our community needs to have the advocacy, empowerment and self-efficacy to act upon witnessing warning signs. This issue involves individual liberties and rights and it harms our most vulnerable community members. Sex trafficking squelches and oppresses our youth’s freedoms and liberties.
In raising awareness and supporting private-sector solutions, we might be able to fix this problem and cut away at the O.C. paradox.
Wealth and sexual violence are an unexpected and surprising link in our community. However, we have the resources, willpower and capability to seek out a solution to fight against sex trafficking.
Orange County abounds with economic opportunity and beautiful landscapes and is often regarded as the perfect place to live. However, this paradoxical problem of sex trafficking needs awareness and action.
Lois Nestor is a Huntington Beach resident.