As we ring in a new year we also recognize January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month – a month to raise awareness about human trafficking issues and support survivors. Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into selling sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened, or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal, or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world; see polarisproject.org.
Yolo County is not immune to the issues of human trafficking. “Commercial sex trafficking/human trafficking is a nomadic enterprise. Traffickers will move their victims from place to place, not staying in one area too long giving them a better opportunity to not draw attention to law enforcement. Yolo County has two major freeways, I-5 and I-80 that traffickers use to go between commercial sex “hot spots” like Sacramento and the Bay Area,” says Mathew Jameson Investigator II, Yolo County District Attorney’s Office (Yolo DA or DA’s Office).
Empower Yolo advocates, local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, social workers, probation officers, mental health providers, and healthcare professionals continue to work together and collaborate in an effort to raise awareness, provide services to survivors and prosecute offenders.
Advocates at Empower Yolo work with Jameson to help support human trafficking survivors. Jameson’s position as an investigator in the General Criminal Division, working primarily with the Sex Crimes Team, with an emphasis on Human Trafficking (Sex/Labor) – a role he’s held since August 2021 – is part of the county’s response to human trafficking.
“In 2017 the Yolo DA recognized the need within the county to assign an investigator to conduct and assist with human trafficking investigations,” says Jameson. “Due to the time and resources that these investigations require, it was necessary to commit a specialized investigator, within the DA’s Office, to assist the law enforcement agencies within the county during these complex and time-consuming investigations. It was also realized that we might be missing human trafficking cases within the domestic violence and missing person cases within the county. Since the creation of this position, several cases have been investigated and successfully prosecuted by this office,” says Jameson.
Jameson also testifies as an expert witness for human trafficking in Yolo County. “My role at the DA’s Office is unique because of the occasional opportunity to work these cases as the front-line investigator. I am also able to review other felony cases that come in for charging, looking for indicators that human trafficking or commercial sex trafficking may be present. I also provide training to the law enforcement agencies within the county regarding possible indicators and clues that human trafficking and/or commercial sex trafficking may be present,” says Jameson.
Empower Yolo’s role in supporting survivors during human trafficking cases is vital. “As human trafficking investigators, Empower Yolo advocates provide an invaluable resource for the victims and us. We partner with Empower Yolo when we do undercover operations. This is done to provide the victim with a non-law enforcement advocate that can offer services and help to the victim,” says Jameson. Two times a year Jameson provides training to Empower Yolo advocates on law enforcement’s response to domestic violence and human trafficking calls.
Trafficking is proving to be pandemic-proof. Human traffickers are experts at adapting to changing circumstances and research indicates a strong shift to online sexual exploitation during the pandemic. This highlights how traffickers quickly adapt to changing contexts and the challenges and opportunities this poses to those trying to reduce and prevent sex trafficking; see https://polarisproject.org/resources/sexual-exploitation-during-the-pandemic/.
“West Sacramento, in particular West Capitol Ave, has been a known area for street prostitution, as well as internet advertised prostitution, due to the multiple motels. The West Sacramento Police Department has done and continues to do a phenomenal job making this area not as active as it used to be, but there is still definitely a presence in that area. With the advent of the internet, online prostitution has become bigger than ever. There are multiple websites that continue to pop up that allow victim advertisements to be posted. These advertisements allow the traffickers to be undetectable to the public, which would normally be considered a nuisance if seen on the street. Although the online commercial sex trafficking does not create a public nuisance to the community, it does not lessen the trauma and pain the victims endure,” says Jameson.
Along with his investigative expertise, one of Jameson’s goals in this position is awareness. “I hope to build on the successes of my predecessor, Lt. Jennifer Davis, and use my training and experience to conduct community awareness events to educate community members on the indicators and prevalence of commercial sex trafficking and human trafficking in the area. Also continuing the partnership with our law enforcement agencies in the county and working with their investigators to investigate these cases,” says Jameson.
We need to be vigilant and educate our youths to protect them from vulnerabilities. “Teenagers in Yolo County have been and will continue to be targets of traffickers. Traffickers have and will use tactics to lure teens, with promises of love, companionship, and easy money. These types of recruiting tactics are prevalent on social media applications that our teens use. Social media use will continue to grow, so it makes it even more important to educate our teens to these tactics that traffickers use,” says Jameson.
Sex trafficking situations involving sexual exploitation on online platforms have very different profiles and implications for response. For instance, an examination of two years of data from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline shows, compared to non-online sex trafficking situations, online situations involved more minors (55% vs. 24%) and more males (15% vs. 7%). See https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Sexual-Exploitation-During-the-Pandemic.pdf.
In an effort to raise awareness and highlight services available to survivors Empower Yolo is co-sponsoring the following event:
A free online screening of the documentary BOYS – January 6, 2022 at 6 p.m.
“Sex trafficking is a worldwide epidemic, a tragedy that affects women, men, and children. Men and boys throughout the United States are trapped in modern-day slavery and forced to sell their bodies for sex. While the movement of sex trafficking has brought large awareness to female victims of trafficking, males have largely been overlooked. BOYS seeks to do just that – bring validity to the truth that males are victims of sex trafficking here in the United States. A panel of community experts will follow the film. Pre-register at: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcoc-6gpjIjHtAnB6Tq06WxxRZbAIeuy6UO. For more information visit empoweryolo.org.
Empower Yolo encourages community members to get involved by watching the film screening to learn more about the issues and what they can do to support survivors, youths, and the community.
“The Yolo County community can support the fight against sex trafficking and human trafficking by educating themselves on the problem and having a discussion with their teens about what commercial sex trafficking is and what avenues traffickers will use to recruit them,” says Jameson.
Empower Yolo has advocates on call to respond to human trafficking investigations. Advocates offer support to victims at local hospitals, law enforcement agencies, CPS office, during forensic medical exams or forensic interviews. Empower Yolo also has 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.
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.
Empower Yolo is hosting a month-long awareness campaign and toiletry drive for human trafficking survivors during 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); new 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; or donate online to our human trafficking program any time at: empoweryolo.org. Please follow our efforts throughout the month on Facebook @empoweryolo, Instagram, and Twitter @empower_yolo.
Starbucks, a community partner of Empower Yolo, is also hosting its own drive for toiletries and coffee in recognition of human trafficking awareness month at 1649 Research Park Drive in Davis. Stop by for a beverage and support their month-long drive by donating toiletry items and/or purchasing coffee gift cards for survivors.
Thank you to Bayer for sponsoring Empower Yolo’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month efforts; Empower Yolo is thankful for their continued support. Empower Yolo also appreciates our partnership with Soroptimist Davis and Woodland for providing comfort backpacks for human trafficking survivors.
Empower Yolo is grateful to all of our donors for their support throughout the year helping us in our mission of promoting safe, healthy, and resilient communities. Thank you for continuing to work together with us to help support survivors in our community. Stay connected with Empower Yolo in 2022 at empoweryolo.org – join our email list and receive updates on services, opportunities, and events in the New Year.