Stepping toward the prevention of human trafficking

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According to the Sowers Education Group, there are an estimated 27 million human trafficking victims worldwide, with one million in the United States alone. Moreover, 300,000 of these one million victims in the US have been identified as child sex trafficking victims. Immediately, this might break any preconceived notion one might have that says trafficking and child sex trafficking only take place abroad or in third-world countries. However, human labor and sex trafficking occur closer to home than many of us realize. The fact of the matter is, this takes place as local as Los Angeles and Orange counties— the city of Long Beach included. Another widely misconceived  notion is that we do not possess the power to do something about the issue.  Although this issue might seem out of reach to several members of the community, this could not be further from the truth.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, the CSULB Women’s Resource Center, in collaboration with the Political Science Department and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) Department, will host the event “Human Sex Trafficking: What Should We Know?” which will provide information and bring discussion about trafficking on a local and national level. The event is spearheaded by Dr. Jeane Caveness, Assistant Dean of Students, and sponsored by Project SAFE, American Association of University Women (AAUW), USU Program Council, and the CSULB President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Dr. Shira Tarrant, Associate Professor in the WGSS department, will emcee and facilitate a panel of guest speakers. The featured panelists include: Dr. Barbara Hernandez, Vice President of Community Services at Crittenton Services for Children and Families; Lieutenant Dan Pratt of the Long Beach Police Department Vice Investigations; and Rachel Thomas, M.Ed., Co-founder of the Sowers Education Group and a trafficking survivor. Each speaker will bring unique insight to shed light on this relatively hidden issue.

What Do We Know?
What Should We Know?
Who is Affected?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” Ages of those involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) typically range from 12 to 17 years old, but there are still cases that involve victims who are younger or older. Multiple factors have to do with who is trafficked, where, how, and why. Contrary to popular assumption, victims can come from a range of socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, and locations. The Southern California area is particularly susceptible to trafficking due to the close proximity to ports and borders. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, human traffickers perceive trafficking to be a low risk operation, due to “lack of government and law enforcement training, low community awareness, ineffective or unused laws, lack of law enforcement investigation, scarce resources for victim recovery services, and social blaming of victims.” Additionally, profits are high since trafficking relies on individuals “willing to buy commercial sex…they create a market and make it profitable for traffickers to sexually exploit children and adults.” 

A common assumption is that human trafficking victims will instinctively reach out for outside assistance or will self-identify as a victim of the crime, but this is not necessarily true.  In some cases, trafficking victims feel they are unable to “leave the life.” The public might also assume that human trafficking survivors are capable of collaborating with authority to convict the trafficker. However, it is often too dangerous for victims to come forward with details or information, as many trafficking operations involve gang-related activity. Not to mention, it is an extremely traumatic experience for a survivor to recount such details, due in part to fear, self-blame, lack of trust, and other psychological traumatic factors. Others, including CSEC, even consider their trafficker or pimp to be their friend or lover, having the mindset that the relationship is a choice rather than exploitation. Dr. Hernandez notes that “Just because of the mere fact that they are children, just by definition, makes it involuntary...They’re not making a cognitive decision. Although, many of the girls believe that they’re making decisions. They’re very young girls; their brains have not developed enough to make those kind of logical decisions [to be in the sex industry].” 

Panelist Preview

Dr. Barbara Hernandez, Lt. Dan Pratt, and Rachel Thomas, M. Ed., each bring a unique perspective when it comes to the subject of human labor and sex trafficking, on community-based, as well as national, levels. Lt. Pratt of the Long Beach Police Department’s Vice Investigations said that in recent years, the LBPD has been taking a different approach when it comes to aiding human trafficking survivors and convicting traffickers in the area. He explained that their team has adopted a victim-centered mentality. First, they determine if an individual is a victim of human labor or sex trafficking. If so, they are treated as such; providing them assistance and protection with sensitivity and care. The approach has garnered a generally positive response and has been successful in regards to helping victims  get  off  the  street  and  providing  them  with services. Furthermore, the LBPD Vice Investigations Unit has filed more human trafficking cases than any other agency in Los Angeles County for the last two years, filing  21  cases,  arresting  23  suspects,  and  rescuing  26  minor  victims so far this year. In addition to tend and rescue street forces, Pratt said that several of the section’s trafficking investigations are Internet-based. They utilize various websites that conduct sexually exploitative transactions in order to track pimps and traffickers and rescue victims of trafficking. When investigating, he also noted their concerns include obtaining the sufficient evidence in order to arrest and convict traffickers, as well as keeping their ways of retaliation in mind. 

Dr. Barbara Hernandez, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a psychologist, specializes in domestic minor sex trafficking, attachment disorders, and childhood trauma, and has worked with minors in the child welfare system for over 18 years. She now serves as Vice President of Community Services for Crittenton Services for Children and Families. Hernandez noted Crittenton as a fairly large organization with various chapters throughout the nation, and that the Southern Californian branches have multiple programs for children and families. “We have a residential program, a wraparound community-based program, we have a foster care agency...and within our programs, specifically residential, we have a large CSEC population.” After the child has been placed with Crittenton, thorough mental health assessments are taken to see how at risk for CSEC they are, or if they are still ‘in the life,’ and if so, how deeply they are rooted within it. Once the child has been identified as either at risk or in the life, Crittenton services then develop a plan of care for them, which sometimes includes intervention, group therapy sessions, and other mental health curricula used to treat developmental trauma. Staff members are also trained on CSEC so they are able to provide intensive services, including but not limited to life skills, anger management, parenting skills, and mental health services.

As the co-founder of Sowers Education Group, Rachel Thomas, M. Ed. uses her teaching, mentoring, curriculum writing, and public speaking experience to lead a team of volunteers, including  trafficking survivors who have dedicated themselves to “sowing seeds of sex trafficking awareness and survivor empowerment.” Sowers works to provide an abundance of invaluable resources for those who have fallen victim to trafficking, as well as those who are seeking to help. Among the resources provided are opportunities to book facilitator training from Sowers, curricula created and developed by the Sowers team, and educational videos and articles, many of which are targeted toward youth and/or sustain a focus on how pop culture’s glorification of pimping and hypersexuality ties in with trafficking and its perception. One of Thomas’ more recent projects is an intervention curriculum called “Ending The Game.” Through the ETG curriculum, a structural framework is provided to uncover coercion, as well as to “educate and empower survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.” ‘The Game’ refers to “the harmful psychological coercion that victims may have been subjected to during or before their exploitation experience.” As a survivor herself, Thomas makes it clear that education is a crucial aspect in the prevention of human labor and sex trafficking, especially when it comes to sharing information on who is at risk and staying safe, psychological effects that ‘the life’ can have on victims, how different types of traffickers think, and ways to get involved.

The Next Step and How to Help: Education and Outreach

When looking at such pressing and life-threatening issues like human labor and sex trafficking, especially the commercial sexual exploitation of children, it is important to think critically about both short and long-term goals to better alleviate the situation. Short-term goals might include efforts in taking any individual engaged in trafficking off the street. As for long-term, one of the most essential factors ultimately has to do with education, as it is in its finest—a form of prevention. Whether it be by booking trained speakers to facilitate training for government and law enforcement agencies, speaking to families, or presenting at churches or schools, or simply utilizing online resources provided by community-based services—if we assert ourselves to learn more about these issues, we can effectively combat them. 

By attending the event “Human Sex Trafficking: What Should We Know?” on Feb. 18 in the Beach Auditorium, you are essentially taking the first step toward prevention: education. There, you will be able to hear first-hand accounts from the panelists, each who have been affected by trafficking and in a different way, as well as have the opportunity to ask questions of your own. Dr. Tarrant also notes that there will be tables outside the event with resources for those who want to participate through volunteer work or be aware of the groups in the community, or contribute in some other way. Getting informed, staying up to date, and sharing what you know can help more than you’ll ever realize.

Human Sex Trafficking: What Should We Know?

USU Beach Auditorium Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 6-7:30pm RSVP on BeachSync by searching “Human Sex Trafficking”


Sowers Education Group Twitter: @sowerseducation

Crittenton Services for Children and Families 4300 Long Beach Blvd, Ste 750, Long Beach, CA

LBPD Vice Investigations Detail Main Line, from 8am to 5pm: (562)-570-7219 Fax: (562)-570-4612

National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-(888)-373-7888


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