Dealing in flesh

Upcoming luncheon underscores local prevalence of human trafficking

It happens in Chico:
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, at noon, at Manzanita Place (1705 Manzanita Ave.), Soroptimist International will host a luncheon with speakers addressing human trafficking. Go to for tickets or more info. Call the national human-trafficking hotline to report any suspicious behavior: 1 (888) 373-7888.

While conducting research for her upcoming book detailing human trafficking in Eastern Europe, Chico State history professor Kate Transchel has interviewed dozens of individuals who have survived the booming market for human flesh.

And as someone who has closely followed international developments on the issue since the mid-1990s, Transchel believes the ability to accurately identify what is and isn’t human trafficking will be critical to curbing what the United Nations estimates is a $32 billion global trade.

During an interview in her office, she offered a chilling example of a local woman who “got drunk at a party and passed out.

“She was raped by a couple of guys while her boyfriend filmed it,” she said. “When she came to the next day, her boyfriend showed her the film of her having sex with these men and told her, ‘I’m posting this on your Facebook page unless you let me pimp you out.’ That’s trafficking. That’s coercion.”

Clearly defining human trafficking will be one of Transchel’s priorities on Feb. 27 when she speaks at “It Happens in Chico,” a luncheon presented by Soroptimist International of Chico aimed at addressing the trade’s prevalence on the local level. Other speakers will include Ashley Bryant, executive director of the Sacramento-based Run for Courage (which raises funds for victims of human trafficking and their families) and a surviving victim of human trafficking.

Using the pseudonym Stacy L., a Sacramento-area woman will discuss being sexually exploited for money by her boyfriend over a decade ago as a high school student in Chico. Though she has shared her story at similar events throughout the North State, the upcoming luncheon will be her first time speaking in Chico, where her trafficker still lives.

“She’s got a lot of anxiety about [speaking],” said Jill Cooper, president of Soroptimist International of Chico. “She’s very fearful her perpetrator might take action.”

Coincidentally, Chico had its first sex-trafficking bust in late January, when three suspects—Roberto Urbina-Gonzalez, Everardo Ibarra Regalado and Corina Dominguez—were arrested on suspicion of operating a brothel out of an apartment on Shoshone Avenue with links to a large North State prostitution ring. The prostitutes were all Spanish-speaking and mostly from Mexico.

Transchel, for one, was not surprised by the news of such an operation so close to home.

“There’s been trafficking going on in Chico for years,” she said. “We just call it other things.”

Jill Cooper (left) and Kim Sayers, members of local branches of Soroptimists International, are hosting a luncheon to discuss human trafficking in Chico.

photo by howard hardee

Transchel emphasized that human trafficking isn’t limited to what most people commonly imagine—prostitution, smuggling or transporting people across international or state borders. Further, victims aren’t always women.

In 2000, the United Nations produced a definition of human trafficking that accounts for three main components: The act (recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons); the means (using threats or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits); and purpose (prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices, removal of organs or other types of exploitation).

Traffickers often target those in compromised, vulnerable situations such as homeless children, runaways, immigrants or displaced victims of domestic abuse. According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the cause, traffickers “often promise a chance for a better life—a good job, a loving relationship, or new and exciting opportunities. In other cases, traffickers kidnap victims and use physical and psychological violence to control them, forcing them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation.”

“It’s very frightening how people are drawn into this,” said Kim Sayers, a member of Soroptimist International of Bidwell Rancho, which is collaborating with the Chico branch to sponsor the luncheon and talk. “[Victims] are basically left without any control over their lives. We have good lives, relatively speaking, compared to the rest of the world. It’s really hard to imagine it happening to someone we know.”

Transchel has drawn strong conclusions regarding her ongoing research in Eastern Europe. She said trafficking is a “uniformly brutal trade,” regardless of the location or form of exploitation.

“It is, in my opinion, the most pressing and crucial human-rights issue of the 21st century,” she continued. “There are more slaves today, per capita, than at any other time in human history.”

Members of Soroptimist International of Chico saw Stacy L. speak at a function in Yuba City. What she shared, they said, was disturbing—after consenting to sex with friends of her boyfriend at his request, her boyfriend gradually began collecting money in exchange for the acts. Soon, customers were no longer limited to his friends. The boyfriend was busted when an undercover FBI agent responded to an advertisement for the “service.”

Many of the women in attendance came away shocked that “this could happen to someone in Chico,” Cooper said. “It made an impression on everyone.”

The Feb. 27 luncheon will be an opportunity for members of the Chico community to share that impression, Sayers said. She believes that raising awareness and providing the public the ability to recognize a human-trafficking situation and how to report it is an important step to helping exploited individuals.

As for why Transchel feels personally motivated to continue her research and complete her book, she recalled first encountering a woman who had been sold.

“The depth of pain in her eyes, the experiences she had, moved me to do whatever I could to make it not happen to anybody else,” she said.

“Everyone has seen a trafficking situation; they just aren’t aware of what they’re seeing. It’s happening in Chico. It’s happening in your neighborhood.”