Many believe that the buying and selling of human beings is a problem for other people in other countries. But the World Population Review ranks the United States as one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking, reporting an estimated 199,000 incidents occur within the U.S. every year.
While cases of human trafficking have been reported in every state, California consistently has the highest number of human trafficking incidents reported in the country, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Human trafficking is real, and it's here.
Chest of Hope assists victims and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking in Northern California. The nonprofit's purpose is to rescue, provide emergency and transitional housing and counseling resources for these individuals -- most of whom are women and girls.
One such woman helped by Chest of Hope is "Samantha," an 18-year-old who worked at a fast food restaurant. Every evening, as Samantha left the restaurant at the end of her shift, she was grabbed and shoved in a car by a predator who threatened her and forced her to work in the sex trade all night.
After three suicide attempts, Samantha reached out for help and was eventually connected with Chest of Hope. She was rescued, given safe housing and provided counseling to help overcome the intense trauma she endured.
Angry when he couldn't reach Samantha, her assailant threatened to kill her family. So Chest of Hope paid for Samantha's entire family to stay in a hotel.
Samantha learned life skills through Chest of Hope and is now a productive member of society.
"There are countless unassuming predators making their way into our communities," said Merlyn Pittman, CEO of Chest of Hope.
To continue assisting victims and survivors of abuse, Chest of Hope is hosting a fundraiser, "Music for Hope," beginning at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at Wente Vineyards, 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore. The evening will feature dinner, a live auction and music by Fleetwood Mask, the only Fleetwood Mac tribute band in the U.S. to be endorsed by Mick Fleetwood.
Tickets are $125 each through Sept. 15 and $175 after Sept. 16, and can be purchased at ChestofHope.org.
Pittman said, "Samantha is one of many where her need was answered (and it) literally saved her life."
"We are asking for your assistance," she said, adding that continuing and increasing services is "just not doable without help."