The first part of Thoreau’s advice has always rankled me. There’s something marvelous about embarking upon a new venture in new clothes, especially in autumn – a throwback to childhood, perhaps, and those back-to-school clothes that signaled the beginning of another academic year. Though I’ve always felt guilty about buying new clothes for charity events; why not just send a check? Once in a while, though, a friend prevails upon me and I don the requisite attire and show up.
So with that grudging attitude and garbed in a years old dress, I showed up at the Balboa Bay Resort on September 21 for “More Priceless Than Diamonds,” the 10th anniversary celebration luncheon of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University.
While hundreds of elegant diners enjoyed chilled watermelon soup with ginger lime and fresh mint, marinated Korean BBQ style flat iron steak, and pear almond torte in the packed ballroom, I learned more about the Center, which is directed by Sandra Morgan. Its stated mission is “to create a just world where women and children are safe, respected and valued.”
The center goes about this through “education, research, advocacy, and collaboration,” with the goal of ending “human trafficking and internet crimes against children in Orange County and worldwide.”
In his keynote address, Ernie Allen, the co-founder and president/CEO of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, explained how human trafficking has exploded into an estimated $20 to $30 billion dollar international industry since the proliferation of the Internet in the 1990s.
Allen also explained the five myths surrounding human trafficking:
1. It happens on the other side of the world.
According to Allen, the United Nations estimates that 1.8 million children from all over the world are trafficked for sex each year.
2. It happens to somebody else’s kids.
Allen estimated that 100,000 U.S. children are trafficked for sex each year – native-born American kids at risk: runaways, dropouts from group homes, or otherwise marginalized. (California alone has 200,000 homeless youth.)
3. It’s a victimless crime, as prostitution is often viewed as occurring among consenting adults.
Although such youths are sometimes prosecuted for delinquency, Allen pointed out the obvious: “These kids are the victims, with psychological and medical damage.”
4. This is a street crime that happens in bad downtown areas.
Having moved from the streets into cyberspace, the victimization of children for sexual purposes has become much more difficult to track. Craigslist, unable to control its adult services ads in the fact of increasing pressure and criticism, shut them down in September 2010.
5. It’s a women’s problem.
Many boys are sexually trafficked and most all of the perpetrators (“Johns”) are men, according to Allen. “We need to target the demand for sex with kids, prosecute the offenders, and hold people accountable.”
The Global Center is a faith-based organization with “the obligation to heal…the world,” Allen said. Though that may seem daunting these days, “It’s our obligation to try.”
It’s encouraging that Orange County has a Center dedicated to trying. It’s also encouraging that conservatives, moderates, and liberals worked together to host the luncheon and remain deeply committed to the cause of fighting human trafficking. U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-46th Congressional District) got the seed money from Congress for the Global Center, and U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-39th Congressional District) is also “on it,” according to Allen.
To return to Thoreau, the passion and dedication of the Global Center for Women and Justice touches the children it rescues, figuratively clothing these kids’ hearts, where it counts, in “new clothes” or what we call “hope.” That’s true splendor.