By Julie Pendray
A new book by a Riverside County woman is being described by Amazon’s readers as “terrifying” and a “must read” for parents.
“Seduced: The Grooming of America’s Teenagers,” by Opal Singleton — a member of Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force — outlines how predators lure and enslave vulnerable young people via the Internet.
Singleton is Training and Outreach Coordinator for the task force and CEO of a non-profit educational organization, MillionKids.org . One million children are trafficked around the globe each year, according to her book.
“Her efforts to educate all segments of society — young and old, rich and poor, cops and civilians — about the suffering and pain associated with human sex trafficking are heroic,” he said via email interview.
“There is nothing more heart breaking than a parent missing a child,” Singleton stated in a news relase. “I know. I sit with them.”
Her book emphasizes that any children can be entrapped, even “good” kids from “good” homes who are doing well in school. Children with poor self-esteem are most at risk. “We all want to be loved. We are all vulnerable,” Singleton writes in her book.
She emphasizes that this is a crime of technology and parents must get up to speed. Understanding the grooming process used by predators is critical, she said in this video interview in Idyllwild.
Singleton became acquainted with human trafficking while volunteering for a non-profit organization, Rapha House, in Cambodia. “The problem is rife there because 50 percent of the population is under age 22,” she said.
The retired international marketing professional has since trained tens of thousands of Americans in government agencies, schools, community organizations and faith based groups, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. John Sawyer of the Task Force. Singleton estimates the number at 50,000 trainees. Sawyer said she has “excelled” at the training, which is offered via MillionKids.org .
The Task Force this week received a $900,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to fight the problem. Singleton stressed in an interview for this web site that prevention is key and money must be made available to law enforcement.
Member agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Diplomatic Security Service, United States Attorney’s Office, California Attorney General’s Office, Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Operation SafeHouse, and Million Kids. The Task Force also partners with local law enforcement agencies such as Hemet and Riverside police departments.
Singleton spoke earlier this year at an Idyllwild Soroptomist’s meeting and came back to this tiny mountain community to promote her book. She said she drives 4,000 miles a month to get the word out about what has become the fastest growing crime worldwide. An estimated 4.5 million people around the globe have become victims of forced sexual exploitation, according to a report by the International Labor Organization in 2014.
Inside the United States, The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received reports of 3,598 sex trafficking cases last year. The FBI reports that gangs are moving increasingly into prostitution because it offers steady rewards with a perceived lower risk of detection.
Singleton said there are currently 130 open cases of people working “in the life” (prostitution) within Riverside County. She knew of no cases in Idyllwild.
The Sheriff’s Department did not provide statistics on regional trends for this article. However, the Sheriff’s web site acknowledges that Riverside county victims include many minorities who are in the country illegally, so gaining information on them is difficult.
The California Attorney General’s Office reports that of the victims in this state whose national origin has been identified, 72 percent are American citizens.
At the Idyllwild Soroptomist meeting, president Karen Doshier said, “Hemet is a hotbed for human trafficking. This could eventually affect us.”
Idyllwild residents Trine Bietz and Mary Morse worked together to bring Singleton to speak here. Bietz saw human trafficking done openly in Thailand when she lived there. Morse is head of the Human Relations Council in Hemet.
Hemet Police Chief Brown said he could not comment on any trend in Hemet because “this crime involves complicated webs of criminal behavior that largely go undetected by police. The most common statistical indication of human trafficking occurs when a victim is rescued or when a sex trafficking “ring” is taken down. Neither of those events have occurred in Hemet with enough frequency to create a statistical trend.”
Singleton said accurate numbers can be difficult to determine by county because many cases overlap counties.
Brown described Singleton’s training seminars and social media education efforts as “amazing.”
She teaches that all children who use the Internet are vulnerable. Those most at risk include homeless and foster teens, runaways, children with low self-esteem, pregnant teens and others who are already sexually active, plus any child left unsupervised for long periods of time, especially if they spend a lot of time doing Internet gaming and social media, according to Singleton.
Young people are also recruited at malls. Some girls are hoodwinked by young men who tell them they’re beautiful and offer them gifts.
Recruiting in schools is often done by “bottom girls” in the “life” who are under the direction of pimps, Singleton writes. They may get close to a girl and invite her to a party to hang out with new friends.
In addition to Hemet, Singleton does a lot of work in San Jacinto.
Ken Kidby of San Jacinto Lions Club first heard Singleton’s presentation at Hemet Library. He said the information “pinned my ears back … and started me on my journey.” He now makes presentations to Lions and Rotary clubs.
Singleton’s book “is an easy read, not because of the subject, but the presentation of material is easily understandable,” he said via email. “Her book is a great reference manual for anyone desiring to get a good understanding of the subject.”
In “Seduced,” Singleton urges parents and grandparents to have non-judgmental conversations with children about what kinds of web sites they go on, what games they play and who they are chatting with. Adults shouldn’t nag but instead take a genuine interest. It could save a child’s life, she writes.
Her book offers examples of games and social media that have been conduits for predators. Singleton declares that extreme violence mixed with pornography desensitizes children. She cautions that young people’s brains are not developed to the point where they can adequately assess the difference between fantasy and reality. For some players, fantasy can lead down a catastrophic path, she warns.
The most well-known games that parents need to research are World of Warcraft, Clash of the Clans and Grand Theft Auto, Singleton writes but there is an endless variety with various themes for X-Box and PlayStation. As an example, Grand Theft Auto V gives players a choice of purchasing and viewing sex acts, she notes.
“Kids think it’s OK to do things in gaming that they know aren’t right in real life,” according to Singleton.
Internet gamers use avatars so children have no idea who they are really talking to. In addition, guilds can demand more and more of players who are vulnerable to addiction to the adrenalin of the game and winning. Players who lack self-esteem can be manipulated easily because of their need for attention and to be part of a team, Singleton states.
Many young people believe that what they do on social media is private or secret but nothing could be further from the truth, Singleton states. Some teens share explicit photos of themselves or flirt with people they really know nothing about on sites such as Omegle (which links kids with random unknown people for chats), ooVoo, Chartroulette, 321 Chat, TinyChat, SpeedDate, MeetMe, Kik, Tagged, Charm, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Skype and Facebook.
Live streaming technology is especially worrisome. Young people can use a web cam and microphone and literally share their life with thousands of people around the world. The Periscope app works with the smart phone Twitter feed, Singleton said. It has a geo tracking feature so a predator can very quickly find a person’s location.
“It is a playground for predators and pedophiles and an easy environment for cyber bullying,” she said.
Many teenagers are not prepared to make wise decisions when interacting on the Internet, Singleton stresses.
On the Internet, it’s easy for a predator to get to know a child apparently innocently through gaming and find out what that child needs through chat rooms, Singleton writes. Most often, it’s love and attention. Some predators send gifts. They can easily portray themselves as the person of this child’s dreams. They can appear to be another teenager themselves. But in reality, the person your child might be chatting with and secretly planning to meet could be a 45-year-old man from out of state.
Singleton said gaming and social media can radically alter children’s morals and world view in a way that can affect the entire community.
She holds parents responsible for making sure they know what their children are doing with their time, the Internet and their smart phones.
She said even when a child “in the life” is found and freed, it doesn’t mean he or she will remain free. Girls in sex slavery are brainwashed to believe their pimp loves them and needs them to turn tricks so he can pay the rent or something else, according to her book. Rescued girls often want to go back to the life, usually out of fear of reprisal. Some who escape and get help are traced and recruited back, only to be tortured or murdered, Singleton writes. She said she doesn’t know the recidivism rate but her gut feeling is that it’s about 60 percent.
Education and Making A Difference
Million Kids has several programs designed to educate and involve community leaders, educators, families and corporations.
“The Love Trap” teaches how predators identify a potential victim.
“Grace, Hope and Fatherhood” equips organizations to reach out to communities and make a difference.
The “Catalyst” helps corporations support efforts in their communities to reduce trafficking.
To contact Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, call (855)758-FREE or go online to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Outside Riverside county, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888.
To contact Singleton, you can email Opal@MillionKids.org or call (951) 323-0298.
Copyright Julie Pendray and SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com