This is Part 1 of a 3-part series
Northridge Hospital Medical Center displayed “A Walk in Her Shoes” Wednesday, Jan. 30, an exhibit that tells the stories of women who’ve been victims of human trafficking.
This traveling exhibit includes the stories of actual survivors through audio testimony that can be heard on headphones attached to standing white pillars that also hold women’s shoes that they wore during the time they were trafficked in the sex industry.
The connection between human trafficking and Northridge Hospital is not a distant one. Many victims of human trafficking wind up in hospital emergency rooms, and Northridge Hospital has gone the extra mile to train their medical staff to be able to recognize the signs that may indicate a patient may be a victim of human trafficking.
Christine Cesa, a survivor advocate, is a key hospital staff member that assists these patients. She understands the trauma. She is a human trafficking survivor.
Cesa is an example of what are unthinkable circumstances that placed her among the numbers of victims.
It was her own father who trafficked her.
“I was abused by my father at a very young age – he began to traffic me when I was 4-years-old to people he knew socially; it’s called familial trafficking which isn’t very well known. I was trafficked throughout my youth.”
She held a small child’s shoe that represented her story. It was a riveting statement, most especially when she lifted the small black sequined shoe up from the pillar and held it in her hands.
“It is more frequent than people realize and can definitely happen to anyone,” she said.
There are many misconceptions about those who are subjected to this heinous abuse. A common myth, Cesa points out, is that women are typically trafficked into the United States from other countries. Many victims of this “modern-day slavery,” are US citizens who may go undetected and the majority that are used for sexual trafficking are US citizens.
Most of the people Cesa has seen at Northridge and other Dignity hospitals are US citizens that have gone into the emergency room for some kind of complaint. Victims can be both men and women, but the majority are women. When she tells patients that she understands their circumstances, and the trauma of sexual exploitation, she is often met with an embrace and tears of appreciation.
“I let them know that they aren’t alone and I’ve been there,” Cesa said.
“It has overtaken drug trafficking and is way more profitable because you can use a person over and over again. There are 5,000 victims a year nationwide. It’s the second largest criminal industry.
”Trafficking is either labor trafficking or any commercial trafficking industry that can be porn or prostitution that is forced and coercion. Anyone under 18 who is forced or coerced to work, in sweat shops environments for example, is labor trafficking, or forced to work in the sex industry – in strip clubs or on the street as prostitutes – that is trafficking.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California has the highest number of reported human trafficking victims.
The statistics can be staggering.
Human Trafficking is a $150 billion dollar industry, considered the fastest growing criminal enterprise of the 21st century, with more than 5,000 new victims each year.
On display were the dehumanizing tattoos that were forced by traffickers that branded women. One tattoo was of an actual barcode on a women’s neck that indicated that she was property to be bought and sold. Another was a tattoo of a traffickers monogram on a woman’s chest. Hospital staff at Northridge Hospital have become familiar with the tattoos that can indicate that a woman is a victim of trafficking and offer to connect those who may come through their door with support.
On another front, LA City Councilmember Nury Martinez has worked closely with the LAPD’s HumanTrafficking Task Force to catch traffickers in the San Fernando Valley and noted that victims have included teenaged girls.
Areas throughout the San Fernando Valley on Sepulveda and Lankershim where trafficking had been visible and commonplace were targeted for cleanup, and as a result over recent years hundreds of “Johns” have been arrested and women who are trafficked were rescued.The work done by the task force in the San Fernando Valley is being emulated in other parts of Los Angeles.
Martinez announced Thursday, Jan. 31, that South Los Angeles will be the next area of focus to rid the community of trafficking. Ivette Macias, Human Trafficking Deputy from Martinez’ office that 90 percent of women who are trafficked are from LA County. They are currently collecting toiletries for women until Feb.8.
Valley area residents wanting to donate needed toiletries can drop them off at Martinez’ field offices, located at:
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, CA 91401
9300 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Sun Valley, CA 91331
Next week: The San Fernando Valley continues to cover the efforts at Northridge Hospital to assist those impacted by human trafficking.
If you believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. You can also learn about the efforts at Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Dignity Health’s efforts at dignithealth.org/human- trafficking-response.