Fundraiser for O.C. Human Trafficking Task Force reveals horrific truth about issue


Talking to a crowd of about 300 people at Free OC, a fundraising event aimed at combatting human trafficking, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas detailed the atrocities his office has come across in prosecuting traffickers, who he refers to as “pimps,” “slave drivers, and “morally bankrupt creatures.”

Prosecutors have seen female victims whipped with belts and scorched with hot irons, immersed in frigid ice baths and branded with tattoos…right here in Orange County.

Along with the DA, Anaheim Police Sgt. Juan Reveles, 39th District Congressman Ed Royce, Community Service Programs’ Director of Victim Assistance Programs Lita Mercado, Southlands Church’s Lead Pastor Alan Frow, as well as human trafficking victims themselves, shared the stage at Southlands Church in Brea on July 30 as part of a fundraiser for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

Photo by Lou Ponsi

The dance troupe SHE-IS, a Los Angeles nonprofit that helps heal survivors of sex trafficking through dancing, performed at the Free OC Benefit Dinner July 30 at Southlands Church in Brea. Photo by Lou Ponsi

The task force is made up of dozens of law enforcement agencies, victim services providers and non-profits.

The task force describes human trafficking as “a heinous crime that deprives a person of their personal liberty for the exploitive purpose of performing labor services or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud or coercion.”

All five panelists at the fundraiser were victimized in Orange County, either by manipulation, coercion, violence and threats. None were born in the U.S.

Behind the Badge used only the first names of the victims to protect their anonymity.

Photo by Lou Ponsi

Speaking at the Free OC Benefit Dinner for OC Human Trafficking Task Force, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas discussed the county’s tough laws against human trafficking. Photo by Lou Ponsi

“It’s real. It happens every single day,” said Judy, who grew up in Kenya and was one of the panelists.” Even though you get free, it’s really hard to go back to normal life. It’s like you forget what normal feels like.”

A special unit formed by the D.A. in 2013 to prosecute human traffickers is responsible for 150 felony convictions against the offenders, Rackauckas said, with 70 percent of them going to prison.

“We’ve done our best to try to make Orange County an unwelcome place for exploiters and human traffickers,” the D.A. said. “These guys are violent. They are armed. They use mind control as a weapon … But going after these traffickers is beginning to pay off.”

Reveles, a 21-year veteran of the Anaheim Police Department and former gang unit supervisor, is the supervising sergeant for the law enforcement arm of the human trafficking task force.

Photo by Lou Ponsi

Shari talks about being a victim of human trafficking. Photo by Lou Ponsi

Victims of sex trafficking have quotas, the sergeant said, sometimes having to have sex with up to 16 men per day.

“If they don’t meet them, they don’t get to eat or sleep,” he said. “That is what motivates me … hearing the stories.”

Reveles told the audience that his unit rescued one juvenile human trafficking victim in Santa Ana the night before the fundraising dinner.

The sergeant has gone as far as Sacramento to find victims and then bring them back to Orange County because he is confident in Orange County’s victim assistance programs.

“If they (come to) Orange County and they are a juvenile, we will go track them down wherever they are,” Reveles said. “We try to keep (the victims) here because we know the programs are in place here.”

Photo by Lou Ponsi

Anaheim Police Sgt. Juan Reveles oversees the law enforcement component of the OC Human Trafficking Task force, a multi-agency operation aimed at rescuing victims of human trafficking and prosecuting traffickers. Photo by Lou Ponsi

Royce discussed the steps being taken at national and international levels to combat trafficking, including an international version of Megan’s Law, which prevents people who have been convicted of trafficking from going to other countries for that purpose.

“It is absolutely mandatory that we ratchet this up,” said Royce, referring to the ongoing battle. “We have a responsibility to end human slavery, especially … as more and more people in our community realize that this is not just an unfathomable tragedy that occurs far away but also that affects us here in Orange County and all over Southern California.”

One by one, each of the victims talked about how they persevered through the experience.

“All I kept thinking of in the back of my mind was my daughter,” Judy said. “If I leave now or I do something to harm myself, what are they going to tell her?”

Each also talked about the state of their lives today and said while they are no longer are in bondage, the scars are still there.

“In my mind, I feel like they are always right there watching me when I’m sleeping and when I’m alone, they are right there waiting to pounce,” Judy said.

Shari told the audience that trafficking could even be taking place in their own neighborhood.

“Tell yourself this is my business,” she said. “Please help them. Trust your gut and help them.”

To learn more about human trafficking, including what signs to look for and how to help, go to

Photo by Lou Ponsi

Speaking at Free OC Benefit Dinner for OC Human Trafficking Task Force, Congressman Ed Royce, who represents the 39th Congressional District, talked about legislation he has helped to pass which prevents human trafficking between countries. Photo by Lou Ponsi

Photo by Lou Ponsi

Judy, a human trafficking victim, was among five trafficking victims who talked about their experiences at the Free OC Benefit Dinner for OC Human Trafficking Task Force, which took place July 30 at Southlands Church in Brea. Photo by Lou Ponsi

Photo by Lou Ponsi

Photo by Lou Ponsi