The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

SBCC sponsors workshops to help combat sex trafficking

Courtesy art provided by Hope Refuge

Fights with parents, financial dependence, and naiveté are among the things that pimps specifically look for when searching for young girls in Santa Barbara County.

In an effort to bring awareness to sex trafficking and help members of the community, the City College Foster and Kinship Care Education program and the Hope Refuge are coordinating a series of workshops that will explore the problem of commercially sexually exploited children.

“We want to create a conversation [about sex-trafficking] and make people realize that this is the fastest growing criminal industry in the United States,” said Sally Cook, co-founder of Hope Refuge.

Hope Refuge was created by Cook and her husband Chuck, who both previously worked in the entertainment industry, as a response to the growing problem of commercially sexually exploited children.

Story continues below advertisement

The workshops are organized by City College and Hope Refuge but are held at the Veronica Springs Church, a congregation the Kinship and Foster Care Program have cooperated with in previous community service events. They will run from March 6 to April 28.

“People wouldn’t think that this would happen here in Santa Barbara, that it would host such criminal activities. We are now realizing that it is a conduit for sex trafficking,” said Judy Osterhage, who coordinates the workshops sponsored by Foster and Kinship Care Education program.

Sex traffickers channel their victims mainly through Santa Barbara and Santa Maria by advertising the girls they have abducted on the classified advertising website called, Osterhage said. The website offers classified listings for a wide variety of products and services including automotive services, jobs and real estate listings, and prostitution, she added.

A 2015 needs assessment in Santa Barbara County pointed out 45 confirmed child survivors of sex trafficking in the county between 2012 and 2014. Approximately 100,000 to 300,000 young adults are at risk to be exploited sexually in the U.S. Also, out of the 1.6 million teens who run away each year, one in three will be recruited by a pimp within 48 hours of leaving home. The average age of solicitation is 12.

Hope Refuge Inc is a 501c3 nonprofit organization established in 2013 that works to combat this problem by providing a retreat center where programs and services can be offered, to address the trauma, abuse, abandonment, and neglect of sex-trafficking survivors.

“We are doing this to expose why and how this happens,” Cook said. “And the response we have gotten so far is amazing. I love Santa Barbara because they don’t look the other way.”

The Cooks and their fellow co-founder Bob Ryan are in the process of acquiring a community care license that will enable them to host victims for an extended period of six months. Their facility provides many amenities including a chef and a beautiful mountain view as Cook described it.

“They are really amazing. They understand the problem and they are working hard to address it,” Osterhage said. “Their goal is a transition home, a place to prepare them to get back to society.”

More to Discover