SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Jenna McKaye, who attended a Christian high school in Southern California, was training to be a volleyball player to follow in her sister’s footsteps and get a college scholarship.
McKaye says her life changed her senior year when she was lured out of high school by her then boyfriend. McKaye shares he made false promises and preyed on her vulnerabilities.
She was beaten, raped and trafficked 10 minutes away from her high school.
It took years for her to realize what she had gone through and to address the trauma.
“I eventually had a breakdown and went to a hospital. It was there that I was diagnosed and that’s when I was told what had happened to me, which was that I survived human trafficking,” McKaye said.
Now 35-years old, McKaye works with law enforcement and other first responders to train them on the signs to look out for and how to identify victims of human trafficking.
Signs of human trafficking include branding like a tattoo, or a change in appearance or behavior.
The anti-human trafficking advocate started the Jenna Mckaye Foundation to advocate for victims through policy.
She has been a strong, vocal supporter of California Senate Bill 14.
SB 14, authored by Senator Shannon Grove, would make the trafficking of minors in California a serious felony and a strikeable offense.
California is the most trafficked state in the nation according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
“People think it’s a third world country that this happens to, but it’s happening right here in your own backyard in California,” Grove said.
Last year, Grove authored a similar bill, but it died in the Senate Public Safety Committee. This year, Grove accepted the significant amendment to only increase punishments for those who traffic minors, which helped it pass through the Senate receiving a unanimous 40-0 floor vote.
However, the bill got stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Those opposed to the bill feel raising penalties for traffickers is an ineffective way to put an end to the issue.
“All evidence has shown that longer sentences don’t actually stop things from happening,” said Assembly member Isaac Bryan in the committee meeting.
After SB 14 failed to make it out of the committee, Assembly Republicans attempted to force a floor vote to get the bill passed, a tense back-and-forth between assembly members resulted in an emergency Public Safety Committee being held to advance SB 14. Members changed their vote, and the measure passed 6-0.
“It’s a positive step in the right direction. For me, it’s not about what political party you belong with. These are human beings that are being bought and sold,” McKaye said.
Though McKaye is glad to see the measure advancing in the legislature, she believes there is still work to do to address all survivors.
“I was still in high school but I was legally 18. That doesn’t mean I had a choice. Force, fraud and coercion is the definition of trafficking and there was definitely force, fraud and coercion at play,” McKaye said. “So if I had gone to trial and my attorney said to me, ‘well, he’s going to get a lesser sentence because you had a birthday’ what I’m hearing as the victim is that my trauma means less according to the state of California.”
McKaye said she hopes SB 14 is signed into law this year, and will be back next year to advocate for human trafficking victims of all ages.
To find out more on how to help survivors or how to report cases of human trafficking visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s website.
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