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Thursday, February 2, 2023
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Nonprofit OrganizationsNonprofit Love Never Fails works to combat human trafficking in Milpitas and...

Nonprofit Love Never Fails works to combat human trafficking in Milpitas and surrounding areas

A 14-year-old kid is logged into Instagram. In the course of scrolling, she gets direct-messaged by a stranger, a person whose account only has 1 photo. The stranger compliments the 14-year-old, saying she’s cute and asking if they can meet up. To create a sense of safety, the stranger mentions a mutual friend of theirs. They all go meet. They head to a local hotel, partying with drugs and alcohol. During the party, it becomes clear that one of the adults is in need of “service” (sexual gratification). The other teens present tell the 14-year-old that if she takes care of this, they can get some quick cash, which they really need because they’ve been running low. Although nervous and shocked, the 14-year-old goes ahead and obliges. She doesn’t keep the money, but she does get food and a place to stay.

She’s just been roped into the world of human trafficking.

In another common scenario, a 25-year-old immigrant, new to the U.S. from Vietnam, finds a room for rent in a suburban house. The house is owned by a team of business partners, local entrepreneurs from a more affluent area, men between the ages of 30 and 70. The rent starts off at a reasonable amount, but quickly increases. The immigrant needs a job. Good news, say the owners – there’s an opening for a receptionist at a local massage parlor. The woman starts work the following day, noting that her fellow staff members seem to share a grim mood. Soon she’s promoted to the level of masseuse. In that role, she’s expected to sexually service the clientele. It’s not what she wanted or expected, but back at home, the rent keeps on ticking upward. She has no choice but to comply, or she’ll be out on the street.

She, too, is now being subject to human trafficking.

In both the hypothetical scenario involving the teenager and the one involving the immigrant, they are being subject to coercion and force by way of financial and material control. Some teens are given high-end sneakers in return for their services; others are gifted McDonald’s gift cards. In all cases, the pimps lining up the work keep the trafficked individual dependent upon what they can provide in terms of material rewards.

These scenarios aren’t unfolding far away; they are happening right here in Milpitas. Although Milpitas is recognized for its affluence, there are obvious pockets of working class and disadvantaged communities. The people, particularly the youth, in these communities are ripe targets for trafficking.

The Beat spoke over the holiday season with Amina Siddiqi, the Fundraising and Program Development Manager at Love Never Fails, a nonprofit based out of Hayward that’s now in its 12th year educating people on and combating human trafficking. Last year, Love Never Fails received an East Bay Leadership Council Philanthropy Award. Siddiqi herself has been a Milpitas resident for 18 years. 

Siddiqi explained how trafficking happens on various fronts, sharing that you find it not only among working class communities, but also faith-based ones. In addition, it is rampant on social media, where the scenario described above begins with what is called “sliding into DMs.” In Milpitas, she shared, massage parlors are where most of the human trafficking takes place; she cited the Milpitas couple that was arrested last year after having trafficked over 100 people. She also added that “[Former] Mayor Rich Tran is a big supporter of Love Never Fails, and has done immense work in paving the way for us in Milpitas.”

Siddiqi said the organization encounters many trafficked individuals who have gone into Emergency Rooms, usually with urinary tract infections and/or suspicions of pregnancy. In addition, trafficked girls and boys are known to show up at fire departments, often because they want to tell somebody with authority what’s going on but are afraid to tell the police for fear of getting into trouble (and many fire stations are known to be safe baby surrender cites, where newborn infants can be left by parents who are unable to care for them). Oftentimes, however, unable to help, the fire department turns such visitors away.

 

 

Love Never Fails runs a variety of programs to assist trafficked individuals and to educate the public on the issue. Through their Search and Recovery efforts, they work with a private investigator and police departments to rescue missing persons who are being trafficked. They also have 5 safe houses (soon to increase) across Alameda County where people can attain safe shelter (different locations are available depending on one’s age and sex). In addition, in partnership with Cisco, the nonprofit runs its ITbiz Tech Academy, a workforce development program that assists trafficked individuals in finding legitimate jobs that allow them to reintegrate in society.

Siddiqi pointed to Oakland as a spot where major trafficking takes place, noting again that the underserved are vulnerable to force and coercion. She also said that pimp culture and FOMO (fear of missing out) and YOLO (you only live once) culture play a role, casting sex work and breaking the law in a cool light in the eyes of young people. But it’s not sex that’s luring young people in; they might just want the latest $1,200 pair of sneakers. Their parents can’t afford them, so they’re vulnerable to being lured by other measures. 

Siddiqi also pointed to SB 357, a newly passed California law that prohibits law enforcement from harassing apparent sex workers, as contributing to a recent revival of pimp culture. Although the law’s meant to take pressure off of sex workers, in effect it runs the risk of enabling an environment in which trafficked youth can see their actions as empowered or entrepreneurial. 

Back at home, oftentimes, trafficked kids’ parents are not paying attention. In the meantime, many of the youth have undiagnosed ADHD. The organization sees these red flags time and again.

“We’re not finding an issue with search and recovery,” Siddiqi said. But she added, “We need people that are trauma-informed and educated on human trafficking in the police departments…” She further added that hospitals and shelters can benefit from the same kinds of professionals.

As such, Love Never Fails cultivates Lived Experience Experts; these are people that have lived on the streets, reintegrated into society, become MFTs (Marriage and Family Therapists), and then set out to help people who are in the position they once occupied.

Siddiqi said that 92% of the organization’s staff consists of survivors. “We’re a team of 36,” she shared, noting that they very recently added a Crisis Care Coordinator, a Finance Manager, a Case Manager, and a Program Development | Fundraising Manager. Not only is their Hayward office their main base of operations, it’s also set up as a community engagement center, to receive human trafficking victims from the streets. If people show up needing a place to stay, they are given resources. If they’re hungry, they can get hot soup or cocoa. If they need clothes, they can be led to a clothes closet, complete with dignity bags. Last year, 1,400 different people received service at the center.

Each weekend, the Love Never Fails team walks the streets in underserved areas, conducting street outreach right where girls are being sold and offering to help them. Last year, they saw 53 students graduate from 5 different technology pathways in their tech academy. They also provided housing to 16 children, 5 youths, 22 women, and 12 men. 

The nonprofit was founded by Vanessa Russell, who worked in IT for 23 years before shifting to running Love Never Fails full-time. In 2010, amid her part-time work as a dance instructor, Russell saw an inner city teen student of hers get sold into human trafficking and trafficked around the Bay Area for two years. Although the student has reintegrated into society, Russell has been compelled to help as many other people as she can.

With January being Human Trafficking Awareness Month, representatives from Love Never Fails will be found all month in Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, conducting an awareness campaign to continue educating the public. 

“This is something,” Siddiqi said to The Beat, “that all of us should know is happening next door.”

 



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Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. In 2023, Eric founded the Psychic Arts Center, dedicated to exploring psychic phenomena and assisting people through psychic readings.

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