On- and off-campus organizations work to combat the rising numbers of human trafficking

By JEANETTE GENSON, scene editor

Central has been active in the fight against human trafficking for the past two years, with a student leading the cause. Krista LaComb, a senior anthropology major, doesn’t think it’s her calling, she knows it is.

She visited Cambodia last summer on a mission trip with Mercer Creek Church. She was the first to sign up to go.

“It’s more like a spiritual thing where I just prayed about it and God told me to go,” LaComb said. “We went in June and I knew in October. I was the first one to know that I was supposed to go.”

The trip was two weeks long, and LaComb worked in an orphanage as well as at Rapha House, a safe house for the rehabilitation of trafficking victims ages 5-18. During the trip, LaComb and her comrades were asked to have fun with the 80 girls who lived there, doing activities such as playing soccer and making arts and crafts, to let them enjoy the carefree life every child deserves.

“It was really hard because in the morning I went to an orphanage where these kids are just crazy and want to jump on you,” LaComb said. “And in the afternoon I’d go to Rapha House and the girls were just blank. They had attitudes, and you could just tell that they had been through a lot.”

LaComb said the hardest part of the trip was dealing with the contrast of the two opposites clashing, and she often left at night crying.

Human trafficking is the illegal trade of humans for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor, according to the United Nations. This is the face of modern day slavery.

Human Trafficking spans over 127 countries and involves more than 2.5 million people today, with at least half of that number being children.

The problem isn’t new, but with the rise of counter movements against human trafficking, there is hope for people who are still being forced to fight for their freedom.

The battle against human trafficking has begun, from worldwide campaigns such as the Polaris Project, to local efforts, including Juneteenth Central Washington and the Zonta Club of Yakima Valley.

For the first part of LaComb’s trip, the girls at Rapha House did not take to the Americans, but they soon grew comfortable with them. One made an impression on LaComb that she will never forget.

One day LaComb sat with a little girl she describes as a tomboy. She guessed she was around 10 or 11 years old. She had a short, boyish haircut and loved soccer, Lacomb said.

“I was just so sad that I had to leave because I loved her,” she said. “She was just so cute, and she just like stuck out to me.”

She asks simple questions, like what is her favorite color. The little girl doesn’t understand her, so a third little girl is asked to translate.

Purple, the little one says.

She asks another simple one, and gets a simple answer.

A third question: When is your birthday? The answer for this question was not so simple. The little girl had no idea. This shook LaComb to her core.

“Knowing what she had been through, I couldn’t believe it,” Lacomb said. “She’s 10 years old.”

When LaComb returned from the trip, she contacted Juneteenth Central Washington, a local organization committed to offering awareness about human trafficking and providing education and resources to the community and victims.

After LaComb shared her experiences, she was asked to join Juneteenth. After praying for a week, she received her answer to begin work with the organization. She is now the housing leader, but can’t fill her full job requirements until they have a shelter.

“Right now it’s hard because we don’t have a house, but I am purchasing books and connecting with other organizations to see what a safe home for victims—what exactly does that look like,” LaComb said. They are hoping to have a house sometime in the upcoming months.

LaComb has also hosted two human trafficking forums on campus that have included individuals from Yakima and the West Side. Volunteers helped put on the event for students, staff and community members. Lana Abuhudra, a senior psychology and business major, works with LaComb and was on the team this year.

“Working on the project was a blessing. I attended last year’s movie and forum, which helped me realize and really see the problem,” Abuhudra said. “This year brought it closer to home.”

LaComb also started the Central Human Trafficking Club last March so other students who share her passion can help raise awareness.

“But there is other stuff, too,” LaComb said. “Collecting care kits for victims, collecting resources for the safe home, educating myself on human trafficking to make sure that I know what’s happening, what kind of policies are taking place.”

Much of LaComb’s work is done through the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement.

Another new service club focused on prevention as a way to stop human trafficking is the Zonta Club of Yakima Valley. They have been raising money and working in the community for the last year and a half.

“It’s quite a movement,” said Danielle Surkatty, advocacy chair at Zonta Club. “It’s kind of like the seatbelt laws. People were horrified by how many were dying. Same here with this grassroots movement. What was acceptable is no longer acceptable.”

The Zonta Club of Yakima Valley has four main things they do in the community: build awareness, encourage dialogue, build a network and raise money for agencies that work with human trafficking.

There is a population that is in more danger of being approached and trafficked, commonly referred to as ‘at risk.’ According to Surkatty, these people tend to be those living in poverty, homeless teens, drug abusers, foster children and teens fighting with their parents.

“They lure them in with money and riches, or adult modeling and prostitution,” Surkatty said.

A common way for traffickers to find victims is with a ‘scout’. This person is usually high school age or younger, and looks for ‘at risk’ individuals to coerce. This can also happen at a party, where young teenage boys will invite girls, usually no older than 13 years old.

“Someone hands them a Coke with a roofy in it, and they wake up and have been raped by 20 men,” Surkatty said. These are examples of what has been going on in the lower Yakima Valley.

According to weaveinc.org, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century, and is a $9 billion industry.

Human trafficking is also the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, only after drugs and firearms dealing.

When individuals are enslaved, more likely than not, they also experience physical and emotional abuse, as well as becoming addicted to drugs in order to stay compliant with the work.

“It’s not going to go away. What we want is really strong penalties on the pimps and the johns,” Surkatty said. “You have to make the penalties harsher than the money you are going to make.”

The best thing for community members to do to get involved and help the cause is to become educated. Many girls being trafficked will not tell someone who asks in fear of being beaten or killed as a consequence.

“I think that because it’s everywhere, and because it’s so hidden—literally as hidden as hidden gets—that if people were more aware of it and just keeping eyes open, that it would help a lot,” LaComb said. “It could save a lot of different people.”

Efforts to battle human trafficking in Central Washington are strong. If things go according to plan, soon there will be shelters where victims can stay and recuperate from the terrible situations they have endured.

Surkatty suggests that people support organizations that are already working against human trafficking rather than beginning their own efforts.

“Parent your kids, and go beyond that and invest in the lives of young people,” Surkatty said. “We live in a small community. We need to take care of each other.”