Lost. Stories of human trafficking are interwoven with loss, connected to each other by common tendrils of what has been taken.
Lost their identity, lost their daughters, a lost generation.
Human trafficking stole Rebecca's daughter by the time she was 12. The common thread of youth weaves its way through the stories of her daughter and other women and their families interviewed by the Times-Herald on their experiences with human trafficking.
Like Rose, who ran away when she was 16. Or Mary, who was left to fend for herself at a young age, became addicted to drugs and alcohol and married -- all by age 16.
Human trafficking, by definition, does not exclusively involve international transport -- an often highlighted arm of the illegal industry that diverts attention from the smaller, darker stories much closer to home.
Vallejo, long identified as a Bay Area prostitution mecca, has law enforcement participating in ongoing regional efforts to thwart it and other human trafficking activities.
As for Rebecca, she was finally tipped off to her daughter's whereabouts after a first frantic week spent papering Fairfield with missing child posters.
"The way my precious daughter looked, and how she smelled, I will never forget," Rebecca wrote in an online narrative. "She had on clothes that we had not bought and there was a smell that was beyond words. She looked like she had not slept in days and she just sat on the couch and did not speak. (She) would
not tell us anything. She was in a deep world of her own and we could not get through."
Rebecca's and the last names of several others in this report, have been omitted or modified to offer privacy to the victims and their families. Her daughter's name is ommited because she is a minor.
Rebecca's daughter, a track-and-field athlete who regularly attended church, fell under the influence of a boyfriend, started running away for short stints before life started its downward slide, Rebecca said.
Five years after her daughter first left home -- she's now 17 and in Solano County Juvenile Hall -- Rebecca said she has decided to publicly share some of her experiences. She speaks of the lessons she learned: to always keep the door open so as to remain a refuge; to put aside personal judgment in favor of love and support.
"You have to go past your own personal view, and get yourself out of the way," Rebecca said. "And say, 'Regardless of what's going on, you're still my daughter. We're still going to support you, whether you're making wrong choices or right choices.' "
Rebecca also ministers to women over 18, hoping to steer them from prostitution and human trafficking toward a different lifestyle. Several years ago, she launched an effort she calls a "wall of resources" for families going through similar experiences.
Once a minor becomes a legal adult at 18, it is often difficult for aid agencies and the criminal justice system to differentiate between coerced and willing prostitutes. Resource opportunities for human trafficking victims in the county -- already scarce, dwindle further for adult victims, Rebecca, police and others interviewed said. Most, however, agreed few willingly sell their bodies for money.
Where human trafficking begins the process in children, prostitution often continues into adulthood, sources say.
Among those sources are members of the Vallejo Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit, which is funneling some of its limited department staffing into investigating human trafficking, with a special interest in "heinous crimes" against the youngest of victims, as well.
Sgt. Joe Iacono, a unit detective, recalled in an interview the "big win" of arresting four human trafficking suspects -- pimps -- in a day-long operation last year. The operation was made possible through a partnership with the Solano County Violent Crimes and Gang Task Force, and its access to FBI resources.
Iacano also shared general details of a joint operation with Oakland police to find a young woman who was being controlled by a pimp, and through her and that pimp's arrest two other young sex slaves were rescued.
Iacono compared those arrests to the relative ineffectiveness of "quick arrests" of street prostitutes and their customers, the "johns".
"It's easy to make the arrest, but that guy will be out before we finish our paperwork," Iacono said, going on to rail against the widespread popularization of the word "pimp" as a verb meaning "to improve" as a sign of these complicated times.
Also confusing to the general public and even the victims is what constitutes human trafficking.
A U.S. State Department memo states that "individuals may be trafficking victims regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitative situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude."
"That (coercion) happens over an instant ... or we've seen cases over a long, gradual, slow period, where this person is at first friendly and trusting, and then uses violence, threats and intimidation to get them to do what they want to do," Iacono said.
Recovery and pain
One Vallejo woman, Mary, who has escaped sexual slavery and prostitution, said she was years into her recovery before realizing she was a victim of human trafficking.
In the span of some eight years, Mary found herself progressing from drug and alcohol addiction, through living on the street, to being locked inside a house day in and day out while waiting by the phone for requests from the next customer.
"I went through a lot during that time," Mary said during a recent discussion of her experiences. "I've been raped, I've been beaten, I've had knives put to my throat, I've had guns put to my head. I've been shot at.
"And that's all about control."
Even after escaping the people who first introduced her into sexual slavery -- they tempted her with a stocked refrigerator and a closet full of nice clothes -- Mary said she turned to street prostitution to feed her addictions and avoid facing reality.
"I never felt okay with me inside, but I didn't know how to get out of it. I had burned so many bridges and I was a drug addict and I just wanted to continue to use because I couldn't deal with what I was doing on a daily basis."
"Despite a term that seems to connote movement, at the heart of the phenomenon of trafficking in persons are the many forms of enslavement, not the activities involved in international transportation," the State Department memo reads.
Former Vallejoan Rose said that human trafficking of the more stereotypical variety was just hours away from becoming her reality.
Now 58 and living in Pinole, Rose ministers to women, girls and family of human trafficking victims -- like Rebecca and here daughter -- in northern Solano County. As a 16-year-old visiting the Philippines with her father, however, she ran away with friends in what she thought was just a long carefree party. It turned out to be a "friendly capture."
"We were going to board a ship to the southern islands. Like an hour before I was to board a ship ... the compound of the place they kept me was raided by NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agents," Rose said. "I was taken for a little over three weeks -- I was in the 'herding' part. (The agents) took me out to lunch and gave me this big story about my being trafficked and that I was actually kidnapped and that the bigger picture was that I was being shipped into international waters, because I ran into a human trafficking ring."
Vallejo's Susie Foreman, like Rebecca and her resource effort, is trying to fill an area gap in services for those caught in the sex trade. Foreman is program manager for the clean and sober living Rosewood House, a program of Youth and Family Services.
Foreman estimated she is about two months from launching her own Susie's Project, a program to "enable change in sexually exploited women."
"The simple definition of human trafficking is ... illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation or forced labor," Foreman told a Benicia group this year. "It's all around us at all times, and we don't know it. But it's really important we do look for signs. Because there's a lot of signs that don't look right that we need to take notice of."
The problem, Foreman said, is that many she encounters refuse to acknowledge that they are being forced out to the streets by a pimp.
"What I want to do is make sure these women have a place to go, where's it's going to be safe for them," Foreman said. "And that we can help them, nurture them and make them feel loved when for so many years they were treated awfully and belittled."
Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @JYVallejo. ------ (c)2013 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) Visit Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) at www.timesheraldonline.com