It’s a dark, deeply frightening image that many think exists only in far away, third-world countries — young girls brutalized and forced into sex slavery.
What most Southwest Riverside residents do not know is that child trafficking happens right here in Riverside County.
“When I first got involved with this cause (in 2010), it was a $33 billion industry. Today, human trafficking is a $43 billion business,” said Darlene Tarnoski, founder of Women Against Child Trafficking.
Tarnoski said that human trafficking claims over 17, 000 people every year and is quickly overtaking drugs and arms trafficking in volume and severity.
“Many of these children are lured by promises of modeling contracts or an acting career. They may be picked up in a limo. Once they’re in that car, their lives are changed forever,” Tarnoski said, adding that most victims are girls ranging from 12 to 14 years old.
Most shocking for Tarnoski was the revelation that children throughout Southwest Riverside have fallen prey.
“I was blown away. I had no idea this was happening here,” she said.
Through her non-profit foundation, Tarnoski works with authorities to provide support to local children who have been rescued from desperate circumstances, providing emergency shelter and dignity bags to meet the child’s basic and immediate needs.
According to Tarnoski, 44 children were rescued in Riverside County in 2011 and 57 have been recovered in just the first three months of 2012.
She said rescues have taken place most recently in La Cresta, Lake Elsinore and Corona.
With many children gang-raped and brutalized, Tarnoski said it’s time that residents open their eyes to what is happening in their own communities.
“You need your kids’ Facebook passwords. Monitor them online. Predators are lurking there,” Tarnoski said.
Tarnoski said part of her role with Women Against Child Trafficking is spreading the word by speaking to churches, organizations and clubs and educating residents on the best way to protect their children.
Tarnoski said, “Parents are so busy. Many of them working two jobs, but it’s time. We need get back to business, folks.”
Donations and volunteers are welcome. All proceeds benefit Operation Safe House.
To learn more click here or visit www.womenagainstchildtrafficking.org.
Kerri S. Mabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @kerrimabee.