Many people associate human trafficking with Third World countries, but young people from Ripon, Calif., learned last week that it is happening in their own community.
Approximately 120 young people and adult leaders from six different youth groups, including Almond Valley Christian Reformed Church, First CRC, and Immanuel CRC, heard several speakers talk about the crisis of human trafficking in the United States and abroad.
Kimberly De Jong, a member of Immanuel CRC, leads a group called Ripon RAFT, Raising Awareness Fighting Trafficking. This was RAFT’s second community event.
“[People] think it is just in countries like Cambodia where it is horribly bad. . . . It is happening in the U.S.,” said De Jong.
Zachary Senn, a 17-year-old who attends Ripon Grace Church, was the main speaker. He said he felt called to fight human trafficking after handing out free hot chocolate on the streets of San Francisco when he was just 13 years old. He witnessed an aggressive man knock a hot chocolate out of the hand of an inappropriately dressed woman. Their behavior made Senn realize she was enslaved to him.
Senn has created videos, participated in protests, and worked with a social justice organization in Cambodia to stop human trafficking. “He encouraged young people to, if nothing else, be more informed. They can be aware and tell other people,” said De Jong.
Emily Hobbs, a member of Soul Harvest Church in Ripon and a psychology major at University of the Pacific, shared with the young people that trafficking occurs in their community as well. She mentioned that young girls have been targeted at their local shopping mall by older men.
Young people may feel powerless when it comes to this devastating issue. “Anybody can do something. Start out with praying. You need to pray for these girls or boys,” said De Jong. “You need to pray for the pimps and owners that are preying on these kids and also the guys behind it and that are thinking that this is OK.”