Upcoming symposium to focus on human trafficking, sexploitation, other related issues
*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent victims of sex trafficking.
During the summer of 2004, 14-year-old, Sarah Meyers’ life was much like any other young girl’s. Her days were filled with thoughts of starting high school in the fall, her new-found interest in boys and what she would wear when the next year’s school session started.
It was then, Sarah said, that her life changed forever and her entire world fell apart.
Sarah, who lived in Los Angeles County at the time, says she returned home from playing at the park one hot July day only to find law enforcement officers and other officials at her home.
As Sarah approached a small crowd of neighbors standing outside an area cordoned off by crime scene tape, she says she was approached by two women who identified themselves as social workers.
It was then that Sarah realized her four younger siblings had already been corralled and were sitting inside a large, white van.
While she was still trying to find out what was happening, Sarah saw her mom and dad being led away from the home in handcuffs. It was one of the very last times she ever saw her parents, who were eventually arrested and imprisoned for narcotics sales and other related crimes.
“That day was the last day of my childhood,” Sarah explained.
Bounced from one foster home to another
Over the next year, Sarah and her siblings were bounced from one foster placement to another. Sometimes she and her siblings were placed in homes together, but more often than not she found herself cut off from the rest of her family for weeks or even months at a time – only seeing her siblings on rare occasions.
Sarah said the upheaval of her life sent everything she knew spiraling away, until there was no semblance of her old life left.
While social workers seemed able to find her younger siblings loving, if only temporary homes and all four were eventually adopted into new families, Sarah’s story and life was very different.
Already filled with frustration, confusion and anger, Sarah had a hard time fitting in with her new foster families and she began acting out and ran away from numerous foster placements.
Social workers eventually labeled her as a “problem child” and for the next several months Sarah found herself sent to one group home after another.
A childhood lost
At just 15-years-old, after running away from yet another group home Sarah said she met Jason while she was panhandling for change in front of a fast-food restaurant.
“I was hungry, exhausted and dirty,” Sarah explained. “Although I was sometimes able to sleep at a friend’s or relative’s house for a few days at a time, when I couldn’t find a safe place to stay I had been sleeping on park benches, behind businesses and under freeway overpasses.”
“When Jason came along and offered to buy me a hot meal I felt like I was at my wit’s end,” said Sarah. “We sat at a table in the corner of the restaurant for hours and I think I ate four burgers and two giant orders of fries.”
“The whole time I was eating, Jason asked me questions about my home life, my family and everything that had happened to me over the last year,” Sarah explained.
Later that evening, hours after it had turned dark, Sarah said Jason offered to give her a place to stay for the night and he later introduced her to several girls – mostly other runaways – he said had been “crashing” at his home.
Sarah said over the next few days, Jason talked to her about living with him and his “friends” and told her he would take care of and protect her. According to Sarah, although Jason was much older, he seemed genuine and more than willing and capable of providing a safe place for her stay.
Sarah said that for a while at least, Jason helped provide what she thought was a safe place for her and he introduced her to many new friends; however, she says he also introduced her to alcohol, methamphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine.
Sold into a life of exploitation and sexual abuse at just 15
One night a few weeks after moving in with Jason, Sarah says he asked her if she wanted to accompany him on a trip to visit Disneyland in Orange County the next day.
To her “eternal regret,” Sarah says she was so excited at the thought of getting away for the day and visiting Disneyland that she thought nothing of the potential danger or accompanying Jason on the trip.
“Agreeing to leave L.A. County with Jason was the worst decision of my life. The first of many bad decisions that changed my childhood and life forever,” Sarah later admitted.
Two days later, at a dark and seedy motel near the excitement and bright lights of Anaheim’s Disneyland theme park, Sarah was introduced to Tyrone, a man who – just hours later – raped and sodomized her while Jason and a third man filmed the abuse.
Sarah says she never did make it to Disneyland on that trip and that night was just the first of countless times over the next several years when men filmed the horrific and ongoing abuse she was subjected to almost daily.
Having never been kissed by a boy, Sarah said she was already traumatized by the previous night, but was completely horrified when Jason unexpectedly left the next morning, telling her that the person who attacked her the night before was her new “Daddy.”
Sarah later learned that Jason had “sold her” to Tyrone to pay off a drug debt and she says she spent the rest of her childhood and early adulthood lost to a world of forced prostitution, daily beatings, spiraling drug abuse and indentured servitude.
Over the next several years, Sara found herself sold or traded from one man to another and her days, weeks, months and years were spent “servicing” older men – sometimes being raped, beaten or worse – as often as a dozen or more times daily.
Constantly moving from one run-down motel to another and always finding herself in one Southern California city and county after another, Sarah says she never had an opportunity to meet other kids, rarely spent more than a few days at any one location and was almost never let out of the eyesight of the men who now “owned her” and controlled every waking moment of her life.
Shining a light onto the darkness
“Few victims ever understand the impact of the decisions they are making when they start down the path of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation,” Singleton explained. “Even fewer understand how to get out of ‘the life’ of sexual exploitation once they become victims.”
“Often a teen will meet a new-found love on the Internet and they run off with them,” said Singleton. “Sometimes they are dating an older guy who is manipulating them into a life of commercial sex. In all cases the result is sexual exploitation.”
To help combat the effects of child sex trafficking and educate first responders as well as the general public about how widespread and pervasive the problem of sexual exploitation of minors is, Million Kids works diligently with groups around the world to end the abuses and horrors faced by the victims of sex trafficking daily.
To that end – with January being Anti-Human Trafficking Month – on Saturday, Jan. 20, Singleton and Million Kids will be conducting a one of a kind, day-long, “Advanced Education Symposium.”
“The first such training of its kind”
The Advanced Education Symposium, the first such training of its kind, is scheduled to be held at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, at 6115 Arlington Avenue in Riverside.
“The purpose of providing this symposium to first responders, civic leaders, social workers, therapists, medical professionals, educators, faith-based leaders and concerned parents is to educate anyone who may be involved in identifying and reporting these crimes or working to provide prevention and intervention of sex trafficking and exploitation in our community,” Singleton explained.
According to Singleton, it is critical that people understand the driving forces that cause these complex crimes – crimes she said are constantly affected by changes in technology, such as the Dark Web, video chat rooms, online gaming communities, disappearing video, underground cyber communities, crypto-currencies, live streaming, encrypted messaging and on-demand cyber sex.
“Few parents and civic leaders are aware of the extensive nature of these crimes or the tactics that predators use to exploit innocent and vulnerable adults and teens,” said Singleton, who explained, “Most of these cases are driven by gangs and predators using social media to access, groom, recruit and exploit young people.”
According to Singleton, California is the number one state in the nation for sex trafficking cases and as more light is shined onto the worsening dilemma, the general public is finally beginning to realize and understand that these cases are no longer just something seen in movies or that only happen in other countries, but in fact are happening in all communities and that these crimes all too often involve minors and teenagers.
Utilizing “thousands of hours of research” conducted by Singleton and Million Kids, the upcoming symposium’s curriculum is designed to analyze, break down and discuss “real cases of human trafficking, sextortion, child pornography, social media exploitation and the Dark Web,” Singleton explained.
According to Singleton the upcoming symposium is an “extensive and intense,” seven-hour course that will focus on the psychology of Internet grooming, social media recruitment techniques and how pedophiles use fantasy relationships and the “social media validation feedback loop” to access, groom, recruit and exploit young people.
Because of the sensitive and graphic nature of the information and course materials that will be presented and discussed, registration for the upcoming symposium is limited to those over the age of 15.
Registration costs $20 per person and for an additional $9, attendees will have access to a sandwich bar during the symposium’s lunch break.
Million Kids – working to educate and train others
about the reality and horrors of human trafficking
Million Kids serves as the Training and Outreach Coordinator for the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking (RCAHT) Task Force and is a recognized leader in the nation for educating government and civic leadership on how predators operate, having already trained more than 100,000 individuals in cases of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and other related topics.
In addition to founding Million Kids, Singleton hosts a local radio show, “Exploited: Crimes and Technology,” on KTIE 590 AM, The show airs every Saturday at 3 p.m.
Singleton also hosts “Exploited: Crimes Against Humanity,” an Internet weekly training program that broadcasts globally through the Voice America Variety Channel. The international show reaches over 170 countries, according to Singleton.
To learn more about local human trafficking or to enroll in the symposium go to Facebook/Million Kids or by email.
Also, be sure to follow Million Kids on Facebook.
For additional information about Opal Singleton, Million Kids or their programs, click here.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.