When we hear the ugly word, trafficking, what comes to mind? We may think first of the congestion on 880 at rush hour. But human trafficking is a far more horrible thing. The average age when first trafficked is 13 for girls, 12 for boys.
Imagine a child named Sheila. Aged 14 now, she was first trafficked at 9 by drug-dealing parents. She lives in constant fear. Not of taking algebra or getting a prom date, the usual worries of her peers. No, she is the possession of a human trafficker, who isolates, exploits, abuses her, makes big bucks off her. Her life expectancy is 7 years. It's unlikely she'll turn 21. She is convinced no one knows about her private hell; no one cares. No one has ever told her she's bright or beautiful.
Sheila suspects this isn't right, but has no idea how to escape.
Until one day freedom arrives. Police beat down her door and arrest her owner. "You're free!" they announce.
Except she doesn't know what this means. Some counties still criminalize her and there is nowhere to house her. Neither foster care nor juvenile hall are appropriate.
What Sheila and others like her need is a safe house where traumatized children get more than a bed. They need a home that provides respite, trauma counseling, medical care, educational and vocational training, a spirituality to promote healing, and a staff highly trained in this field.
Those places are rare but I'm glad to say that Alameda County -- one of three worst places nationally for sex trafficking of children - looks forward to opening a home for healing, in partnership with Catholic Charities East Bay. It will be an oasis of care in a desert of violence and greed, only one of what should be many such homes. But it's a start which could offer a future for Sheila.
With a Perspective, I'm Kathy Coffey.
Kathy Coffee is the mother of four and grandmother of six.