SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — While hundreds of businesses have crumbled under the weight of a lingering pandemic, one has unfortunately survived.
“Sex trafficking is still happening during COVID,” WEAVE CEO Beth Hassett told FOX40 Tuesday.
Hassett said in 2020 alone the organization responded to 304 victims of domestic and sexual abuse, most of them juveniles who could not go to school because of COVID-19.
“We’re hearing that the substance abuse is worse,” Hassett explained. “The intensity of the violence in the relationships with their traffickers has increased so it’s been challenging to stay connected with them when they are so tethered to the person that’s abusing them.”
Hassett said traffickers are now more emboldened than ever to take advantage of victims who have either lost their jobs, their homes or their families to the pandemic, with the grooming process mostly being done online.
“For a while, there was one platform that everybody was doing their buying and selling on and now there’s so many behind-the-scenes websites,” Hassett said.
Sacramento County Prosecutor Courtney Martin said local authorities have also been inundated with reports of both adults and juveniles being trafficked.
“We’ve filed more cases in 2020 than the two years combined before that,” Martin told FOX40.
Through Operation Hot Spots, Martin said officers are finding new ways to target online sex buyers by going undercover. They are also working with a coalition of shelters and agencies called Sacramento Together to help people recognize and report signs of trafficking during COVID-19.
“If everyone is looking for someone locked away in cellars, they’re going to miss the trafficking that is happening right in front of them,” Martin said.
“A lot of people think that it’s girls being stolen from malls and that is not how it happens,” Hassett explained.
The victim could be a coworker, a classmate, a family member or a friend.
“Like with everything we’re seeing from COVID, it goes so far beyond the physical effects and it’s really having a tragic impact on the victims that we work with,” Martin said.
WEAVE’s 24-Hour Support and Information Line is 916-920-2952. The line offers immediate intervention and support by trained peer counselors. Help is available in over 23 languages.
More information on WEAVE’s services can be found by clicking or tapping here.
For more information from Sacramento Together on how to identify human trafficking, tap or click here.