Human trafficking is a heinous crime and human rights violation that destroys families, lives and dreams. Every continent in the world has been involved in human trafficking. It’s happening everywhere, especially where there is poverty, conflict, and gender inequality. But there’s good news: every day, survivors of human trafficking are changing the world with their courageous stories.
Sonoma County is one of four stops along a human trafficking circuit that includes Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco. People from every walk of life are held by force, coercion, manipulation, threats and/or deception. Their every day is colored by fear, pain and control.
It is a misconception that trafficking happens in far away places and countries. California is one of the nation’s top destination states for labor and sex trafficking. The San Francisco metropolitan region, where approximately 40% of human trafficking cases in the State occur, is one of California’s three major hubs for all forms of human trafficking.
Located just 50 miles north of San Francisco, visitors from all over the world come to Sonoma County for its cultural events and recreational opportunities, gambling casinos, internationally recognized wines – as well as its reputation for human trafficking activity. Traffickers transport children and young adults along this circuit to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. We believe YOU can make a difference. No one person can to everything, but each person in society can do something to end human trafficking.
This month, we wanted to raise awareness and honor the voices of local survivors of human trafficking. The words of Lisa Diaz-McQuaid, a Sonoma County survivor of human trafficking and exploitation, are testament to the incredible resilience of survivors worldwide. Lisa’s story points toward the urgency for action to prosecute perpetrators and support survivors along their journeys to restored dignity, health and hope.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of human exploitation and human trafficking are portrayed in Lisa’s story.
Lisa Diaz-McQuaid: My experience started as a young child I was being sexually abused in my household by a family member. I was sexually abuse from the age of 8 until I was 17 years old. Throughout those years I was taught to bargain with my body. Whenever I wanted to go out and have a normal teenage childhood experience, I had to give something to my stepfather in order for me to leave the house. This resulted in me being a very angry teenager. I was involved in gangs, I was a habitual runaway, I ended up in the juvenile system – I was the problem child. But what people didn’t see from the outside looking in is that all the while it was just a result of how I was reacting to the abuse that was happening to me in my household.
Being human trafficked taught me how to bargain with my body at a young age. I was 17 when I left my household with an older man. Later into our relationship he propositioned me to sell my body to other people. I had already been doing that in a sense as a teenager, so it was just my way of showing him that I loved him. At that time, I had a really distorted image of what love looks like. I had low self-esteem, I had a lot of shame, a lot of low self-worth – so I basically thought that my purpose was to sell my body for whatever price that was.
I survived that time of my life by developing a hard shell on the outside – and I became good at leaving my body. While I was being trafficked, I was able to disassociate and leave my body. I created an alter ego and that was just a way for me to protect myself.
Looking back, all I wanted was love and protection – these are things I’ve always wanted from a very young age. When I was being trafficked – these men promised me love, promised to protect me. They showed me love by buying me a purse or having me dress up in nice clothes. I felt like that was their way of showing me that they loved me. My self image was based on a price tag. I was in survival mode, and I believe that my higher power and creator has played a big part in my survival.
Looking back, all I wanted was love and protection – these are things I’ve always wanted from a very young age.
I always thought of myself of not being very strong, but when I was being trafficked, I had to put on an armor of sorts. It was very difficult but that’s how I survived through the years. My strength was that I was a survivor.
My healing journey started when I was in treatment. I remember when I started speaking my truth about my sexual abuse from my childhood. I instantly started noticing that the other women started speaking up as well. We started using our voices. It was like a domino effect. I knew in that moment I wanted to work with survivors of sexual abuse and human trafficking. But even at that time, I didn’t realize that I was a human trafficking survivor.
We started using our voices. It was like a domino effect. I knew in that moment I wanted to work with survivors of sexual abuse and human trafficking.
I signed up for school and someone else gave a presentation titled, “Red Flags of Human Trafficking.” I remember sitting in class with a lump in my throat and holding back tears because I was relating to everything the presenter was saying. I knew in that moment that I was a survivor.
I want women who have been human trafficked to know that they can dream big. There’s nothing impossible. Look at where you’ve come from and look at where you are today. You are a miracle. I want other women to be able to experience how empowering it is to go from such a dark place to a place of healing and power. We can build our own support networks. We can heal and accomplish amazing things. We are worthy of everything we can dream of doing.
It’s really easy to make a judgement when we see someone who might be stuck in human trafficking. It’s really important for everyone to understand that nobody is out there by choice. It’s a form of survival. There’s something going on, on the inside. Some kind of brokenness. Some kind of trauma. Low self-worth low, self-esteem. Something is going on internally that puts a person in a position to be trafficked. Being aware of the red flags and recognizing what’s going on is so important.
I want women who have been human trafficked to know that they can dream big. There’s nothing impossible. Look at where you’ve come from and look at where you are today. You are a miracle.
Maybe if someone had come up to me and tried to help me and said “hey what’s going on? Why are you involved in this? How can I help you?” that might’ve made a big difference in the trauma that I have experienced throughout all the years of being trafficked. I really think it’s important for the community to just start speaking up. Awareness is the key to prevention. With enough awareness and open conversation, I believe we can end human trafficking.
Thank you Lisa for sharing your incredible story, and to all the brave survivors changing the world with their stories. They are so brave, and are making an incredible difference in the lives of other survivors, and in sharing their stories, are taking direct action to end human trafficking.
If you are a survivor of human trafficking looking for resources in Sonoma County, call Verity’s Crisis Line at (707) 545-7273.
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation:
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888: Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking.
Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733. Message and data rates may apply.
Chat the National Human Trafficking Hotline via www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat