A 911 recording of a kidnapped teenage girl pleading with a police dispatcher for help gave West High School students a graphic glimpse into the world of human trafficking on Thursday morning.
Suzanne Schultz, family crimes coordinator for the county district attorney’s office and the leader of a work group in the county’s Human Trafficking Task Force, gave an hourlong presentation to teacher Jared Rio’s human rights class, as well as members of the Gay Straight Alliance and West’s conflict management team.
The teenagers listened as the girl cried to the dispatcher, “I just want to go home. I haven’t eaten for four days. I just want to go home to my mom.”
(Editor's note: The following audio may disturb some listeners.)
Schultz said the girl helped police track her down at a Stockton motel and arrest the man who was holding her. He was sentenced to more than 21 years in state prison.
“That is the reality of that world,” she said. “I don’t want to ever see any of you have to try to overcome that.”
According to Schultz, 85 percent of those involved in human trafficking are women from the United States. She said nearly half are children. The average age is 14 to 17 years old.
She told students the story of a girl who was groomed for a life of prostitution starting at the age of 9 by a man she was familiar with in her neighborhood. She said the girl didn’t realize she was “selling her soul” when she accepted a gift of $20 from the man to help feed her two younger siblings after her drug-addicted mother abandoned them for days at a time.
Schultz explained some of the methods used to attract girls and boys into human trafficking — a pimp pretending to be a boyfriend, recruitment by another victim, fake job offers for modeling or acting, outright kidnapping.
To show how the sex industry is glamorized in pop culture, Schultz played a couple of songs and told the students to listen carefully.
“The lyrics are saying it’s not a bad world,” she said.
She warned the teens that the Super Bowl — this Sunday in Santa Clara — was widely known for attracting victims of human trafficking to meet the demand of the men attending the event. She told them that pimps send people to malls and try to entice girls to parties.
She said one former victim told her she took a sip of a drink at a party and awoke naked in a motel with a pimp telling her he owned her.
“It brings in $32 billion globally,” she said. “When I talk about this I’m not just talking about this happening in L.A. or New York. Human trafficking is happening right here. California is one of the top four destinations in the United States for human trafficking.”
One student asked why women don’t just leave their traffickers. Schultz replied that it’s difficult to care for yourself when your education ended at the age of 13. She said she was working with a trafficking survivor in her 30s who was learning how to get by outside that world.
“My job is to try to help somebody put their life back together afterwards,” she said.
After the lecture, which was held for two groups of 40 to 45 students, some students spoke of the impact the event had upon them.
“I think it’s good to always be informed about this,” senior Abigail Maldonado said. “I think it has a very big impact on people to hear what these girls go through. You should always be on the lookout for weird things that can go on.”
Leah Boid, a junior, called the topic deep and said she felt more empowered with the knowledge it provided.
“It really gets to you, especially if you know people like that,” she said.
The lecture with the students was one of three presentations Schultz and local officials gave on the topic of human trafficking in Tracy on Thursday. They met in the morning with local realtors and hosted an evening session at the mall for residents.