Beaten, bleeding and holding her toddler in her arms, Cody Foute opened the normally latched door of the house where she was kept and ran away from a life of abuse and sexual slavery. That was July 19, 2011, after years of traveling with a pimp called Hollywood across Riverside County, often visiting Palm Springs, where she would meet men who paid for sex in motels.Today, the 27-year-old lives in a battered women’s shelter in Moreno Valley with her 4-year-old, working as a waitress in a Thai restaurant.
The most common and overlooked victims of human slavery are those used in the commercial sex trade, according to Jennifer O’Farrell, the Anti-Human Trafficking Director at Operation SafeHouse, an emergency program for people in crisis situations that has shelters in Riverside and Thousand Palms.
More than 80 victims of human trafficking, both adults and children, have been found in Riverside County, according to Sgt. John Sawyer of the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.The task force also has identified more than 80 human trafficking offenders, and numerous federal and state cases have been filed or are pending.
in September 2010, the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce was formed with the help of a grant through the California Emergency Management Agency. Its mission is to combat all human trafficking, which includes the exploitation of any “person through force, fraud, fear and/or coercion.”
The trafficker’s mobility, and lack of contraband, is part of the reason that federal laws are sometimes better equipped to deal with enforcement. On the state level, human trafficking as a crime is a relatively new offense. The first human trafficking laws came into effect in 2005 and were updated by Proposition 35, passed by California voters in 2012.
Service organizations, such as Operation SafeHouse, are critical to the prosecution of traffickers, especially in cases where the victim’s testimony is needed. For O’Farrell, prosecutions are crucial to the victim’s recovery. Some victims take six months to recover. Others take years.
“Until the victims see that they were victimized, they don’t understand that they have been brainwashed,” O’Farrell said. “They just want to move on, and testifying is a huge part of the healing process.” O’Farrell said her goal is to give victims independence and make them believe in themselves and their futures.
It has taken time for Cody Foute to get through the brainwashing. During her metamorphosis, Operation Safehouse helped Foute, a high school dropout, get her GED, a place to live and regain her sense of worth. She now speaks about her experience to law enforcement agencies, churches and nonprofits.
“They tell you that you’re beautiful. They tell you that they love you, but then they make you feel worthless,” Foute said. “I just thought this was all I was ever going to be good at — that’s what they keep telling you. I thought I was always going to be a prostitute. I used to feel like this little creature that just gets stepped on. But now I feel like a butterfly.”
Learn more at Reza Gostar’s The Desert Sun article: Sex trafficking’s desert victims.