Event to raise funds for battle against sex trafficking

0
116

According to the U.S. Department of State, 200,000 U.S. citizens are trafficked inside America’s borders each year. A local fundraiser with special guest speakers will raise money for safe houses for victims of trafficking.

By McKenzie Jackson / Special to The Malibu Times

Decades have passed, but Nathan Wilson, 49, still remembers the day a young Ukrainian woman approached him looking for help, while he was on special assignment with the U.S. Air Force in Brussels, Belgium.

While at a dance club, the girl asked Wilson if he was in the American military and then proceeded to tell him how she and a friend were forced into the sex trade.

“This angered the hell out of me,” Wilson said. “So I went back to the hotel to get [other military personnel] and I was told to stand down, and that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

Wilson, a disabled veteran and political consultant, said the crime committed against the girl is one of the reasons he founded the Project Meridian Foundation, which is committed to combating the sex trafficking of women and children.

Wilson said during his time in the Air Force, officers had the motto “Leave no man behind.”

“We left two girls behind,” he said.

Wilson will be discussing the dangers of sex trafficking in the U.S., and his hopes of building the first safe house for sex trafficking victims in the country during a June 3 fundraiser for PMF at the Malibu home of film writer, producer and author William Winokur and his wife Maggie.

Wilson said human trafficking is an epidemic.

“It is absolutely growing out of control,” he said. “I think this is the greatest crime against humanity.”

According to a 2004 report compiled by the U.S. Department of State, each year, 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals from Europe, Asia and South America, along with 200,000 U.S. citizens, are trafficked inside America’s borders.

Wilson said the number is higher.

“We know it is even greater than that because we did a 15-state study,” he said. “We are looking at about 1.6 million kids in the United States that are in the sex trade.”

PMF, a Richmond, Va.-based nonprofit organization, in cooperation with law enforcement agencies, seeks to assist in the identification, capture and prosecution of human traffickers.

The group now wants to attempt to rehabilitate the children and women who are forced into human trafficking by establishing three safe houses in the U.S. and one overseas by 2015.

Wilson founded the group in 2002 and funds its operations through private donations. The foundation’s leadership is comprised of Wilson and 25 board members, honorary board members and advisors, including former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who is PMF’s chairman.

PMF secretary Rick Glover said human trafficking is a larger than life problem.

“It swallows up children,” he said. “Most of them unfortunately, will not be found, most will not be saved. The few that we are lucky enough to save will be scarred, some beyond help, for the remainder of their lives.”

Currently, PMF is working with U.S. law agencies and the Thai government to stop an alleged American trafficker who is suspected of selling girls and boys, ages 5 to 7. PMF is also collaborating on a case that involves young girls from Chile being trafficked to California.

Wilson, PMF’s vice-chairman, said trafficking victims usually range in age from 9 to 20, and are kidnapped and coerced into the sex trade by a variety of criminal organizations. He said mobs and gangs bring victims from foreign countries under the ruse of finding employment, and American victims are often captured and threatened into becoming prostitutes.

Wilson said human trafficking ties in with other illegal activities that criminal groups undertake.

“It goes with the drugs, the weapons and the counterfeit videos and DVDs,” he said “It is all tied together.”

When talking about the dangers of human trafficking in the U.S., Wilson tells of the story of an American college student named “Natalie,” who was forced to become a prostitute after she was kidnapped.

In 2005, the then-19-year-old, who is from a prominent family, was kidnapped while walking in front of a row of bars and restaurants in a West Coast city during an evening out. She was promptly gang raped, beaten and locked in a house for three weeks.

Her captors forced her to become an escort after threatening members of her family, and began selling her to clients for $12,000 to $15,000 per five-hour period. She escaped captivity just hours before she was set to be sold to a Japanese businessman for $2.2 million.

Wilson said girls like “Natalie,” who have blonde hair and blue eyes, are worth around $2.5 million in the sex trade.

“If you have a brunet with green eyes, blue eyes, U.S. grade stamped on,” he said. “That is high money too.”

Wilson said most Americans don’t realize the seriousness of human trafficking despite it being featured on television and films.

Winokur decided to host the fundraiser, titled “Tuscany Under the Sun,” after a mutual friend told him about PMF’s undertakings. He said when he first learned the facts about human trafficking in America he was shocked.

“We always think of it as a problem in someone else’s backyard or in some Third World country,” he said. “Not that it would be any less of a problem … it is even more shocking that it is happening here in our neighborhoods.”

At the June fundraiser, there will be food, music and a silent auction. Confirmed and invited guests and speakers at the event include former Olympian and fitness trainer Andrea Orbeck, who is listed as a donor of $5,000 or more to PMF, author Georgia Durante, and radio host and author Burl Barer.

Wilson said attendees will learn how to get involved in the fight against human trafficking.

“How can you understand being raped 20 to 40 times a day,” he said. “I don’t have kids, but I have a whole hell of a lot that need to be rescued. I’m passionate about this. We have got to become a mechanized unit.”

PMF Secretary Glover said the foundation’s effort against human trafficking is a lifelong battle to educate the public on the dangers it causes to society.

“We need public and private support, to get the word out, to change the laws, to put the predators that target, manipulate and dehumanize our children behind bars,” he said. “And we need to put formal plans and facilities in place to rehabilitate these unfortunate children from their life of abuse.”

More information and tickets to the June 3 fundraiser can be obtained online at, visit www.projectmeridianfoundation.org or by calling 202.257.0987.