At 14, Katariina Rosenblatt was addicted to cocaine, had a boyfriend connected to Pablo Escobar and was being trafficked through an apartment complex and sexually exploited by grown men.
On Friday, during College of the Canyons’ human trafficking seminar “Human trafficking — It happens right here,” Rosenblatt informed a crowd of approximately 100 attendees that her story is not unique, and is happening across the country in places like Santa Clarita.
Zoe International, an organization fighting human trafficking across the globe, has said that in 2018, almost a third of domestic human trafficking cases reported in the United States were minors, and that Los Angeles has been identified by the FBI as one of the 13 “high-intensity” areas for human trafficking.
During the event, those in attendance heard from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office about human trafficking, were able to ask questions to a panel of experts in the field representing nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, as well as Rosenblatt giving her testimony of survival.
Rosenblatt, who now runs the international advocacy organization There is Hope for Me, said she felt called to visit Santa Clarita not only because of the existence of human trafficking within its jurisdiction, but also the lack of awareness about it.
“It’s not their fault, but it’s just that time to bring awareness, to engage and tell everyone they have a part to play,” said Rosenblatt. “Kids are getting trafficked all over. We saw it on the streets. But people need to be equipped and they need to be trained, and we need to train as many people as will come, so that they can know how to engage in the fight against human trafficking.”
Organizers said the event was designed to do just that — train and educate residents, law enforcement and community stakeholders about the ever-present nature of human trafficking in Santa Clarita.
“It happens a lot here in Santa Clarita, and most of it happens online,” said Dan Broyles, an event organizer. “Perpetrators will groom 12-, 13- and 14-year-old kids online, through gaming, social media venues and even apps designed for trafficking.”
College of the Canyons, according to Broyles, has been a prominent venue for the SCV Committee on Human Trafficking to work with because the large student body has been engaged with the topic and even formed their own clubs to contribute in spreading awareness.
“There’s always going to be different changes and methods to tackling the problem,” said Chase Longan, former president of MyGenMyFight, a COC club designed to combat human trafficking in the Santa Clarita Valley. “And just to hear the stories of people that have gone through this can really help with what we’re doing.”