January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a month to raise awareness about human trafficking issues and support survivors. Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States, see dhs.gov/blue-campaign. California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the U.S. In the Sacramento Valley region, there is an urgent need to provide more assistance, immediate care, and access to services for the victims and survivors of these devastating crimes, according to a recent report “Estimating Sex Trafficking in Sacramento County, CA, 2022.”

Through a timely interview with Terri Galvan, Former Executive Director of Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH)[1] and Principal Researcher for a participatory action research project in Sacramento County we will highlight several sex trafficking issues in our region based on Galvan’s research.

CASH, RTI International, and Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research partnered to estimate the scope of sex trafficking in Sacramento County. This research was funded by the State of California and was designed using participatory action research to understand the scope and nature of sex trafficking in one geographic location. This was the first study to estimate prevalence of sex trafficking in a California community and the first sex trafficking prevalence study set in the United States that included adults. The study used a mixed-methods design that included a multiple systems estimation and semi structured interviews that used a respondent-driven sampling design to gather more contextual information about sex trafficking and the needs of victims and survivors. Galvan notes this research is only about sex trafficking – not all human trafficking.

We estimated that there were 13,079 minor and adult sex trafficking victims in Sacramento County in the period of 2015-2020. This analysis suggests that there are 9.6 times more victims in the county than are identified by law enforcement or service providers. Survivors were diverse in age, race, and ethnicity; however, African American women were overrepresented compared to the population. The mean age at the time of exploitation was 20 years old with the majority having a first experience of trafficking under the age of 20. Sex trafficking was not limited to young people. Many of those interviewed indicated that they were unable to leave their situation because of violence and the lack of any other means to support themselves and sometimes their family; (Galvan, 2022) see the full report at https://www.rti.org/impact/estimating-sex-trafficking-sacramento-county-california.

Based on Galvan’s research Yolo County is not immune to issues of sex trafficking. In fact, there’s a prevalence of victims that are not being identified. Many of our victims in Yolo County are also being trafficked in Sacramento because of the transitory nature of the abuse. Our work in recognizing and responding to human trafficking victims in our community needs to be better, stronger, and more responsive.

“The biggest issue that this study revealed is that we are not doing a good job of identifying people who are being sex trafficked. We are also not doing a good job of letting people know that help is available to them and ensuring that we have a strong regional crisis response. This is a regional issue, not specific to Sacramento County. As part of the semi structured interviews, many reported not thinking that what they were going through was something they could be helped with, and others attempted to reach out for help and found waitlists and barriers to the immediate help they needed,” says Galvan.

The research shows our community response needs to better identify and protect all sex trafficking victims especially African American women and young adults. There needs to be more targeted outreach, a strong, coordinated community response, and access to immediate services and resources.

CASH is a leader in the movement to end sex trafficking and support survivors. “CASH continually improves to best serve the needs of survivors of sex trafficking. We are the only organization in Sacramento County that exclusively serves women who have been commercially sexually exploited. We started in 2008 as a street outreach organization, grew into a drop-in center, and now also provide dedicated services that meet the unique, and often complex, needs of survivors. Our services are centered on what the survivor needs. We can assist in a crisis, we can provide short-term help to resolve an issue or challenge, and we can provide long-term support for women and families as they work on wellness, housing, and employment,” Galvan says.

CASH and Empower Yolo partner in various ways to meet the emotional, housing, and service needs of survivors of sex trafficking. “CASH uses a survivor-led model of mentoring, which is a very helpful way to connect with people who have been marginalized, fear judgment, or are unfamiliar with services that can meet their needs. CASH offers their mentoring services to all organizations working with survivors. Empower Yolo provides housing in a trauma-informed environment, which is one of the most pressing needs of survivors,” says Galvan.

Advocates at CASH and Empower Yolo continue to work hard to provide services and resources for sex trafficking survivors. Throughout our region, there are a variety of services and resources available to survivors. Empower Yolo has advocates on call to respond to human trafficking investigations and offer support to victims at local hospitals, law enforcement agencies, forensic medical exams, CPS offices, or forensic interviews. There’s also a designated human trafficking advocate who works with survivors providing support, information, resources, and advocacy. Empower Yolo provides services and resources for survivors of human trafficking including safe shelter, therapy, legal services, housing advocacy, food, clothing, and toiletry items. CASH provides wrap-around services that include crisis housing, connection to long-term housing support, medical and mental health care, legal and employment assistance, survivor-led educational classes, and services that continue for as long as a person needs support in their life. The Sacramento region also has a new hotline for victims of human trafficking at (916) 664-7233.

We need the community’s support to end sex trafficking. “The first thing the community can do is understand that sex-trafficking is an issue in all of our communities, and it can be prevented. This is a public health issue with root causes. The community can support efforts that reduce the likelihood that our daughters, sons, mothers, and community members are sex-trafficked in the first place. To support survivors, the community can partner with organizations doing anti-trafficking work to meet unique needs, offer internships or supported employment, reduce barriers to permanent housing, and involve survivors in community level decision making,” says Galvan.

In an effort to raise awareness, highlight issues, services, and resources for survivors Empower Yolo is hosting its annual human trafficking awareness month campaign. We will be co-sponsoring an educational film screening with the Foster and Kinship Care Education Program:

Join us for a free film screening of Shattered Dreams Sex Trafficking in America – Tuesday, January 17, 2023, 6 to 8 p.m. 

Shattered Dreams: Sex Trafficking in America is a first of its kind, feature length documentary that explores the deeply rooted psychological issues that victims of sex trafficking face on a daily basis at the hands of pimps and buyers. Through first-hand, heartbreaking testimony of abuse from three survivors of the illicit sex trade, the incredibly complex nature of this form of modern-day slavery is revealed. Investigative interviews with leading experts from across the country provide further insight on what drives the industry, exposing shocking revelations about the society we live in and the misconceptions many of us harbor that allow sex trafficking to thrive.

After the screening we will have a panel of local experts to talk about what we can do in Yolo County to support survivors. To register in advance and to enter the workshop visit:

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcpceGqqDkjEtNjZt8XR1ZOgOKpIofU661q.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. We encourage community members to get involved by watching the film screening to learn more about the issues and what they can do to support survivors.

Empower Yolo in partnership with Soroptimist, Davis and Woodland will be hosting a toiletry drive for human trafficking survivors for the month of January.  Please donate new, travel-size toiletry items (i.e. shampoo/conditioner, body wash, soap, deodorant, chapstick). Other helpful items are gift cards for coffee, fast food, gas and groceries; non-perishable snacks; sweat pants (any sizes); towels or wraps to keep warm. Items can be dropped off at the main office at 175 Walnut Street, Woodland, or 441 D Street, Davis during office hours. With these donated items, Soroptimist will be creating comfort backpacks and delivering them to local hospitals for human trafficking survivors. Starbucks at 1649 Research Blvd in Davis will be partnering with Empower Yolo in January and will also be hosting a donation site. Purchase gift cards for coffee and/or drop off any donation items at their location.

Thank you to Bayer for sponsoring Empower Yolo’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month campaign again this year; we are grateful for their continued support. Please follow our efforts throughout the month on Facebook @empoweryolo, Instagram and Twitter @empower_yolo, or donate to our human trafficking program any time at empoweryolo.org. For more information on human trafficking contact Jen Vasquez, Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate at [email protected], or call our 24-hour crisis line for support at (530) 662-1133. All services are free, safe, and confidential.

Join Empower Yolo and CASH to help strengthen our community response to meet the needs of human trafficking survivors in our region. Each one of these thousands of local victims deserves compassion, safety, and the belief that survival from abuse is possible.

[1] The mission of CASH is to assist women who have been commercially sexually exploited through survivor-led peer support and harm reduction services, while providing education about the harm inflicted on women and the community. For more info visit cashsacramento.org.


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