Fighting Human Trafficking in the Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Human trafficking is something that's happening worlds away and here in the Valley. Last year Fresno County had the second highest number of victims helped in the state.

It's an issue on the streets of Fresno and hidden around the Valley, human trafficking. For survivor Maria Suarez, it was her terrifying reality after moving from Mexico to LA at the age of 15.

"I was sold for $200. Me, $200," said Suarez. "I don't think that's enough for me. There's not enough money in the world that can be paid for me, because I'm a human being."

Suarez says she was a slave to her trafficker who threatened not only her life, but her family's. Suarez was one of the speaker's sharing her life altering experience to bring awareness to human trafficking. Centro La Familia hosted the gathering.

Centro La Familia Executive Director Margarita Rocha said, "People think it happens elsewhere. That's not true. It happens here. It happens with the sex trade, it happens with labor, it happens with domestic servants. All of those exist here."

Representatives from several other agencies attended, all in the hopes of helping those who are being bought and sold as servants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Cullers said, "Human trafficking, sex trafficking are very under reported crimes. They are crimes that are in the shadows."

As for Suarez, her story is one that saw many tragic turns. After being enslaved, she ended up imprisoned for her captor's murder. After 22 years, she was set free with a new purpose.

Suarez said, "I am here today to help others and to give that knowledge to the youngsters, and to show them that we can do it and we can protect others and protect our own future."

A mission to free others from the same slavery that once held her captive.

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