And it’s only Day 1

So many thoughts and it’s only Day 1. It is officially way past midnight, and I’m sitting in the common room with a bunch of other randos from the hostel after deciding that I had too much on my mind to sleep, too much to document, too much to process. Normally, writing isn’t my forte, but I’m really trying to just make this blog my space. Apologies in advance because here goes this late night stream of consciousness..

Thought 1: This just got real.

I knew from the moment I looked into the trip that the topic was heavy. I mean, human trafficking?? Come on, when do we ever hear about these things on the daily? But today, everything got so real. Emphasis needed: SO. REAL. I can research all I want, but that will never compare to actually talking with all the support groups and meeting with the advocates. We visited BSCC, STARS, and Orangewood Center today to learn about the many services they provide. Anika and Anthony from BSCC were glad to tell us about how they support survivors once they are put in contact with them. It ranged from safe housing to therapy to help applying for visas. They are the only of the three sites today that also deals with labor trafficking and international sex trafficking. Lots of great work done there with some really involved case workers. Big issue: Yes, trying to focus on lowering the demand (the purchasers of trafficked people’s sex) would possibly be a solution. But these posters? Why does it have to be about them and their stds and their lives being ruined? Is the exploitation of minors not a good enough determent for them to, I dunno, not sexually exploit minors?

Thought 2: Not-so-hopeful views on society.

Next we met with STARS, which provides services to women survivors of domestic sex trafficking by way of case managers, fun outings, and group meetings. The leaders of this program really had lots of passion to start up STARS and let me tell you, the work has paid off. It was stressed that sometimes all these girls need is to not feel invisible. If a teacher would have greeted them in school or asked how they were or said “We missed you in class yesterday” it would have made a world of a difference. But this isn’t just on the teachers or just in San Diego or just with human trafficking. Why are we letting each other down? Why can’t we make time to ask each other how we’re doing or find out what’s new? I’m mad because I do that too. Horrible time-management skills aside, I don’t think I reach out to people as much as I did before I got to Duke’s hyper-competitive, seemingly-perfect, struggle-free environment. Many reasons associated with that, but bottom line, we are all here for each other. Super cheesy, I know, but let’s just all love each other more please.

Though 3: Nothing could prepare us.

We *knew* we were going to meet with a survivor. But oh man, we weren’t ready. Hearing Oree speak at Orangewood was unforgettable, unimaginable, unmatchable. I didn’t even take notes because I just sat there, taking it all in. She was strong, passionate, determined, focused, and brave. Hearing the struggles before, during and after her exploitation really put it all in perspective. It doesn’t take much for certain things to line up and next thing you know, there’s a new victim being sold. Pimps are smart and manipulative. The victims can come from any background. And it starts at such a young age!!! 11 years old and already speaking seductively. Sexually active. Frightened about money quotas. 12 and with a brand tattoo. Middle schoolers recruiting each other into the business. So wrong. It definitely took us all by surprise, but it was such an honor to meet with this inspiring 20-year-old.

Things to note: The huge use of the internet (backpage, Facebook, Instagram) for either posting ads or recruiting. Not so much is done by walking the streets at night, but the online method makes it so much harder to catch the perpetrators. We’ll see what the law is planning to do at tomorrow’s meetings with the Lawyer’s Club of San Diego.

Thought 4: My engineering self is always so data driven – even on this trip. 

This is something I’ve always struggled with. Find a problem -> Find the solution. But it is not always that easy. Never, actually, in the real world. So here I am, my frustrated self because I need data and numbers and facts that just can’t be provided either because there isn’t enough research done (it’s very difficult with a topic like human trafficking) and straight up because these problems aren’t quantitative. At all. So out with the check boxes on surveys and in with the stories and lived experiences. Can’t place a high enough value on that.

Thought 5: What a team. 🙂

Ending on a positive note, because this really has been a good experience I promise, believe me, no joke. From the gourmet breakfast to deep conversations to the bombbbb tacos to speedy kitchen cleanups to bedroom off-key singing/off-the-chain dancing, we have quite the crew here on the alternative spring break. (Still need my alone time though, no offense, even if it comes at 1 am.)

Janet Saldana Written by:

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