Fresno group battles illegal sex trade and slave labor

For the last four years, Fresno County's Economic Opportunities Commission has declared war on human trafficking.
January 17, 2014 6:36:51 AM PST
For the last four years, Fresno County's Economic Opportunities Commission has declared war on human trafficking. While they have been successful in helping those caught up in the illegal sex trade and those involved in slave labor, many victims fly under the radar for years.

Arien spends a good part of her day inside a bakery smelling sweet scents of cupcakes and pastries. But it was just a short time ago her days were filled with bitterness and dread. Arien, who came out of human trafficking said, "You really get it drilled into your head that you will never be productive and if you do escape, whatever you do you'll never succeed."

Arien was on the streets as a sex slave for five years taken from Fresno against her will by a pimp who sold her for sex in cities all over the United States.

Because of shame and insecurity, many victims never escape. Arien finally sought help at "Made for Them," a non-profit organization that helps victims recover emotionally and practically.

Executive Director Andrea Shabaglian said most victims just need acceptance and lots of love. "Our girls range from girls who were forced into servitude and slave labor, girls who were forced on the streets... girls who were sold by their families."

In the last four years, Central Valley Against Human Trafficking has provided services to 130 victims -- 60 of those were under the age of 18 and one was as young as 12. The program's project manager, Ronna Bright, said many of those victims are just under the radar, but right out in plain view. "We may see someone out on the street or in a mall or in a park, not realizing the depth of the violations that are occurring to them."

While many victims are tied up in the sex trade, many others are being forced to work as nanny's, housekeepers, or in restaurant work and landscaping. Even some of the street vendors you see selling flowers or fruit could be caught up in human trafficking.

Bright's task is to educate the public on what it is and how folks can help.

Fresno leaders on Thursday proclaimed the month of January as "Human Trafficking Awareness Month." The city council presented members of the Central Valley Against Human Trafficking organization with a proclamation.

Members of the organization say they are grateful for the support they have received from the city council.

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