Human trafficking is a growing crime that occurs in places throughout the world, though many may not realize it's also happening in Tuolumne County.
Nearly 100 people attended an event Wednesday night at the Sonora Opera Hall hosted by the St. James Episcopal Church in Sonora, also known as the Red Church, intended to raise awareness about the crime of human trafficking and shed light on the issue locally.
"Choosing to be unaware equals choosing to be complicit," said Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin Bishop David Rice. "We can ill afford neither one when it comes to those who are enslaved in our world."
Victims of human trafficking are often lured through force, fraud or coercion into forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation, such as prostitution or child pornography.
At the event, Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg mentioned a case pending in Tuolumne County Superior Court involving a person accused of human trafficking. She said it's the first such case her office has prosecuted.
"I reach out to the community and there seems to be this notion that we don't have human trafficking in Tuolumne County," she said. "It may not be the human trafficking you envision … but we have children who have been exploited in child pornography and other sexual exploitation."
Daniel Clifton, 35, who is awaiting trial in custody at Tuolumne County Jail, is charged with two counts of felony human trafficking and 18 other felony child pornography and child molestation charges, Krieg said in an interview after the event.
Krieg alleged that Clifton used a teen dating website to lure an underage girl from Tuolumne County into sending him pictures, videos and eventually meeting with him in person, and then used threats and fear to continue his relationship with her.
"I think it is a growing problem and certainly in the Central Valley corridor it's basically an epidemic," Krieg said. "Unfortunately, I don't think this will be the last case we see."
Clifton's trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 30 in Tuolumne County Superior Court.
Wednesday's event ended with a showing of the short documentary "The Trafficked Life" by filmmaker Michael Fagans that focuses on the human trafficking problem in Kern County.
Human trafficking generates profits of up to $32 billion each year, according to the film. Between 14,500 and 17,500 human beings are trafficked into the United States each year and 46 percent of victims know their recruiters, the film stated.
The Center for a Non Violent Community, a Sonora-based nonprofit that provides support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, has sheltered several victims of human trafficking, according to Heather Carter, the center's co-director.
"We've only seen a handful right now, but I think with the attention we're receiving, it will increase," Carter said in an interview.
Some in attendance Wednesday night said they were shocked to hear that human trafficking is making its way to Tuolumne County.
"It's happening here and I didn't realize it," said Cindy Roberts, of Sonora. "I think it's really important that this many people came together to expand their awareness of what's going on."
The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is sponsoring a 750-mile, 18-day bicycle ride in October from Taft to Modesto called the "Tour Against Trafficking."
A 30-mile leg from the Red Church in Sonora to the town of Avery is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 19.