Cecilia Goñez takes the fight to sex trafficking
DOWNEY — While gangs, violence, and drugs linger as some of the more obvious local crime issues, another, just as sinister epidemic continues to spread in the background.
Local resident Cecilia Goñez is an outspoken advocate against sex trafficking.
“The first time I heard about human trafficking was probably 15 years ago,” said Goñez. “Me belonging to a club in the city, I was introduced again to human trafficking. Soroptimist International globally, they do a lot of advocacy for human trafficking because right now it’s the number one epidemic issue, and it’s growing.”
According to a recent article published by Business Insider, the United States was ranked one of the world's worst places for human trafficking in 2018, along with Mexico and the Philippines. While there is no official number for victims in the US, it is estimated that it is in the hundreds of thousands.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives an average of 150 calls a day, resulting in 49,000 cases reported since 2007.
“It’s growing so much because of the gangs and the cartels,” said Goñez. “If they’re selling a gun or a drug, they can only sell it one time. But, if they get women, men, children, transgender, gay people, they can sell them over and over again.”
A mother and domestic abuse survivor herself, Goñez was moved to help fight back.
“I said we have to do something, I have to get involved,” said Goñez. “People believe that this happens overseas, that it happens in third-world countries…it’s happening here.”
In fact, Goñez says that the epidemic’s four main areas are in Texas, New York, Florida, and California.
While she says she hasn’t heard of any cases in Downey, there have been local cases.
“California has the three main cities where we have a lot of child sex trafficking – San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles,” said Goñez. “Within Los Angeles, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) have identified 17 cities where it happens.”
Goñez says that it is important to learn the signs that may identify a potential trafficking victim.
“There’s two types of trafficking. The ‘Romeo pimps,’ they do take care of the girls; they take them to get their nails done, their hair done. From that, we have just the sex traffickers where they treat the women like trash.”
Potential signs to look for include women wearing minimal clothing where weather might suggest otherwise, or hotel / motel patrons who seem to stay in their room at all times, constantly asking for fresh sheets and towels as other visitors cycle through, who only pay with cash.
Having dedicated so much time to the cause herself, Goñez says that “there is no way to walk away” once you begin the fight against sex trafficking.
“There is no way that you can walk away, there is no way that you’re just going to sit down and do nothing,” said Goñez. “There is no way that you’re gonna not say, do something to make a difference. That’s what I’m trying to do.”