Human Trafficking Forum - Generously Sponsored by:

Rotary Club of Solvang, Rotary Club of Lompoc, Rotary Club of Santa Maria Breakfast, Rotary Club of Santa Maria South, Rotary Club of Nipomo, Rotary Club of Cayucos, Allan Hancock College, United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, Toyota of Santa Maria, and The Law Office of Philip F. Sinco.

The following article is by April Chavez and was published in the Santa Maria Times on January 29, 2023.


A human trafficking forum was hosted by Rotary Clubs of the Central Coast Saturday in an effort to raise public awareness about the issue with proceeds supporting awareness and education, resources for victims and prevention efforts.

Lisa Long, the chairman of the event and member of Santa Maria Rotary South, says the club wants to continue to hold these forums in the future.

“It’s meant to be an ongoing thing because a small group of people can't change everything all at once," Long said. "If just a few people try to do everything, they will grow weary."For sustainability, we are working on quarterly workshops and the hope is that smaller groups of people will be inspired to take action."

Human trafficking or people trafficking typically involves the use of force or coercion, typically for labor or commercial sex.

Long says there are various ways to take action on the issue, perhaps getting involved with various projects, participating in a task force or taking an active role in education in one of the key focus areas.

“Those key focus areas are building community awareness, commitment to collaboration, education, prevention and then creation of a survivor network and mentorship, so we can support those survivors after the fact,” said Long.

Ellen Torres, executive director with Casa of Hope, is a survivor of human trafficking and said she's grateful that the community is stepping up on the issue.

“The Rotary clubs are coming together and saying, 'Hey, this is an issue in our community and we have to do something about it,'” said Torres. "As a survivor, I think the most important takeaway that I want people to hear today is that the anti-human trafficking motivation is very much about being survivor informed and survivor led.

"We raise leaders up in this movement. I think it’s important we have the voice of the survivors at the forefront of this movement."

Dan Dow, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney, spoke at the forum and says the reason the issue is important is because a lot of people don’t believe trafficking is happening in their communities.

“One of the reasons is that it’s a transitory crime," Dow said. "It occurs where traffickers will take their victims on a circuit and the 101 corridor is one of them.

"From San Francisco down to San Diego, whether it’s the 101 or the 5, that’s where the victims are being trafficked,” said Dow.

During Saturday's presentation, San Luis Obispo County Senior Investigator JT Camp showed attendees pictures of how the 'pimping lifestyle' is incorrectly shown in the media.

Real-life pimps, who coerce or force women into human trafficking operations, typically don't stand out from a crowd.

“The pimp lifestyle, there is nothing glamorous about it. It’s just about using and abusing people that they see as a commodity," Camp said. "When they are done with them, they’re done with them and move onto the next victim.

“This is really something we try to get people away from. There really isn't anything great about the pimping lifestyle or subculture."

Dow shared that, in the past, human trafficking victims may have been treated as criminals by law enforcement, but that the county has changed its view on how to treat those caught up in the legal system.

    “We decided we needed to form a task force as a community to make sure that our law enforcement partners were aware that they needed to look at the person being sold as a victim first, as opposed to a criminal,” said Dow.

    Dow said the county created a task force that implements sting operations that aim to "find people who are creating this demand that are trying to purchase human beings for sex and then we’ll arrest them."

    Saturday's event is the first of four quarterly events that are sponsored by six rotary clubs in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, United Way Northern Santa Barbara, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, Toyota of Santa Maria and the Law office of Philip Sinco.

    Save the day, the next summit, is set to be held May 9 at Hilton Garden Inn, in Lompoc, featuring keynote speaker Opal Singleton, president and CEO of Million Kids, a program dedicated to combating sex trafficking, child pornography and extortion through education and training.


    April Chavez is the Santa Maria City Reporter for the Santa Maria Times. If you have information, or a story idea that you would like to share, send her an email at