The region’s first safe house specifically for victims of human trafficking needs more funding. The YWCA of Monterey County, which runs the safe house, recently found out the state will not renew the grant that funds the operation.
Human trafficking is often defined as modern-day slavery. It includes forcing someone to work against their will or perform sex acts. And it does happen here. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney spoke with YWCA Deputy Director Daniel Gonzalez about why this safe house is needed.
Daniel Gonzalez (DG): For a very long time, Monterey County has been an area that has suffered from these types of issues, whether it be labor trafficking, whether it be domestic servitude, or sex trafficking. And there wasn’t really any direct services available for those who were seeking some sort of help or assistance. And so we took the stand and we decided to apply for this grant.
Erika Mahoney (EM): Is the house just a place to stay or is it part of a bigger program to help human trafficking victims?
Our program is a year-long program. We provide emotional therapy. We have art therapy. We have equine therapy. We provide these victims, or these survivors if you will, with the resources that are going to help them overcome the years and years of trauma. Because you have to understand for people that are suffering trafficking, the age of initiation is 12 to 14 years of age. So a lot of these clients that we’ve had in the safe house are coming from 30, 40 years of exploitation, or they only know this trauma and this way of life. They have enormous amounts of stigma that they carry. And so we try to give them the tools so that they can overcome that.
EM: The safe house can currently serve up to six adults, women or men. So far, who has been staying in the safe house?
DG: They come from all over the country and all over the state. We’ve had clients that are coming from other counties like San Luis Obispo, like San Francisco, certainly from the Central Valley. And we’ve had people, also, all the way from the East Coast that we’ve brought them back to the area that have family in the area or that are simply looking for a program.
EM: Does the safe house serve local victims?
DG: We do and we’ve had victims from the area. But, generally speaking, when we have clients that are from this particular area, we look for the option of placing them outside of the county because we try to break that connection that might make it more difficult for them to engage in the program. I don’t know if I mentioned it earlier, but most of our residents that are coming from other areas of the state indicated that at some point in time they were trafficked in Monterey County. Whether it be Salinas, whether it be the Peninsula. And you know, Monterey County is connected to the big population centers like San Francisco, the Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles. And so the 5, the 101, you know, those are the big arteries of the state, and Salinas is generally a pit stop.
EM: If this is happening in our backyard, how do the traffickers avoid detection?
DG: People tend to look for, you know, the women in the street. That’s not how it’s done anymore. I mean they do it online. You don’t even have to go to a hotel anymore. They bring them to you. They bring them to your house. They're constantly on the move. And so you, really you don't want to, you don't want to establish yourself in one place because then you can become, you can be detected. And so it's very hidden nowadays you don't see it outside as much.
EM: The safe house program is funded through 2019 with state money. So what happens once that state funding runs out?
DG: I mean we didn't open the safe house just to have it open for a year or two and then just close it down. You know the need is there, the community has an issue with human trafficking and we're going to continue and we’re going to try to get creative with how we get resources. And if the state later on figures out that they want to continue funding these type of programs, well it will be welcome.
Daniel Gonzalez is Deputy Director of the YWCA of Monterey County. The YWCA runs the region’s first safe house specifically for victims of human trafficking. State funding for the safe house will run out next year.