‘Most invisible crime’: What human trafficking looks like in OC

Harbor Boulevard and Hazard Avenue – both streets in Orange County – are locations involved in a Santa Ana Police Department human trafficking investigation. Graphic by Emma Reith

Kelly Galindo, director of human trafficking documentary “26 Seconds,” views Harbor Boulevard as one of the scariest places for human trafficking. The street runs along the borders of Disneyland, which may seem like an unlikely location for prostitution. It’s not.

“Human trafficking in Orange County is happening right before our eyes,” said former Chapman student Melissa Hoon, a California state-certified counselor for survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking. “It is one of the least known atrocities and it’s happening in our own backyards.”

Out of the 415 human trafficking victims rescued in Orange County in the past two years, 73 percent of those victims were newly trafficked in either 2017 or 2018, according to a 2019 report by The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF). The report also found that 12 percent of the cases were labor trafficking and 87 percent were sex trafficking.

“Human trafficking is the most invisible crime,” Hoon said.

In her experience working as an emergency response counselor for the OCHTTF and as a Youth Anti-Trafficking Specialist at WEAVE  – a Sacramento County-based crisis intervention provider for domestic violence and sexual assault – Hoon said that oftentimes, victims come from broken homes and have already suffered physical or sexual abuse, which aids human traffickers in knowing where and how to prey on vulnerabilities.

It’s this undiscussed topic that led Galindo, a professor at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, and Prateek Damodaren, a junior film production major, to travel across the world and uncover the reality of human trafficking.

Galindo visited and filmed survivors in Thailand, Iraq, Cambodia, India, East Africa, Mexico and the United States for her documentary series “26 Seconds,” which refers to the fact that every 26 seconds that passes, a child is trafficked. Each episode of the documentary series will guide the viewers through a survivor’s experience and point of view in a particular country.

“Through their stories, we introduce the organizations that are there in the fight with them,” Galindo said. “They’re doing incredible work; they are the heroes. They need to have a light shined on them.”

The teaser for the series is available on Amazon Prime, and will soon be on other platforms like iTunes and Google Play. Galindo plans to pitch the project to Netflix, where the episodic series would have hour-long episodes.

“My project is going to be about how sex trafficking is global. It’s everywhere, but it’s a little different in each country,” Galindo said. “No matter where it is, it’s all about the money.”

Galindo told The Panther that Orange County, an affluent region of California, with a median household income of $81,000, is a surprising hub for sex trafficking. Approximately 80 percent of the victims and traffickers come to Orange County from other parts of the state or nation because of high demand and profits in the area, according to OCHTTF. This trafficking is due to the nearby tourist attractions, sports venues, beach cities and affluent population.

“Out of all the countries – and I’ve been to third world countries – I was most afraid of Harbour Boulevard in Orange County,” Galindo said. “The pimps here have guns and they’re standing there and could shoot at you.”

An advisory released by the Santa Ana Police Department following the March 10 arrest of human trafficker Malik Malveaux revealed that Harbor Boulevard and Hazard Avenue are under surveillance in law enforcement’s ongoing anti-prostitution efforts.

Despite attempts made to stop trafficking, the process of trafficking victims is easier due to technology that makes it faster and cheaper to traffick women.

“We’re in this online world in which a man can be home and order them like pizza,” Galindo said. “They come to him or he can have them meet him at a hotel. It has been taken to a whole new level.”

Galindo has worked with several organizations like Roads of Success, which connected her with survivors in India, Thailand and Minneapolis and Rahab Uganda, which gave her access to East African trafficking survivors.

When Damodaren went with Galindo to East Africa and Mexico, the experience made him lose faith in the world for a while, he said.

“But it soon made me hopeful, because there are so many good people fighting against it,” Damodaren said. “There’s pure evil in the world, but we found the good too, and I found solace in that.”