January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking issues and support survivors. Human trafficking, also known as trafficking of persons, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological.  The exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used; see justice.gov/humantrafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.  

Join Empower Yolo and our community partners in January in raising awareness in our community and supporting survivors to foster hope, empowerment, and resilience.

“Human Trafficking Awareness Month serves as a vital platform to educate, mobilize, and engage communities worldwide, shedding light on the pervasive nature of this crime, empowering individuals to recognize signs, support victims, and advocate for policies that combat this insidious violation of human rights,” says Celina Alveraz, Associate Director, Empower Yolo.  “It brings attention to a complex issue, fostering dialogue and action towards prevention and support for survivors,” adds Alveraz. 

Every year, millions of adults, and children are trafficked worldwide – including in the United States, California, and Yolo County. It can happen in any community and victims can be of any age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality. Traffickers might use the following methods to lure victims into trafficking situations: romantic relationships, manipulation, violence, false promises of well-paying jobs, language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime; see dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking

Anyone can experience trafficking in any community, just as anyone can be the victim of any kind of crime. While it can happen to anyone, evidence suggests that people of color and LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience trafficking than other demographic groups. Generational trauma, historic oppression, discrimination, and other societal factors and inequities create community-wide vulnerabilities. Traffickers recognize and take advantage of vulnerable people; see humantraffickinghotline.org/en/human-trafficking/recognizing-signs.

“Children are vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation due to a myriad of factors, including socioeconomic disparities, family dysfunction, prior abuse or trauma, lack of parental supervision or support, homelessness, substance use or abuse, and online manipulation facilitated by technology,” says Alveraz. Traffickers take advantage of these vulnerabilities, manipulating and coercing children into harmful situations, often with promises of affection, protection, or basic needs, trapping them in a cycle of abuse and exploitation.

“Technology has expanded the avenues through which children can be targeted and exploited by traffickers; this makes all children in Yolo County vulnerable. The internet and social media platforms provide a means for traffickers to easily access and groom potential victims, often under the guise of friendship or false opportunities. Online spaces can normalize harmful behaviors, desensitize children to abuse, and facilitate the exchange of explicit content or information that can lead to exploitation offline,” says Alveraz. 

Yolo County also struggles with issues of labor and sex trafficking. Empower Yolo advocates, local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, social workers, probation officers, mental health providers, and healthcare professionals continue to work together and collaborate to raise awareness, provide services to survivors, and prosecute offenders.

In 2023, Empower Yolo provided services to 24 individuals impacted by human trafficking. These survivors ranged from ages 12 to 66 years old and identified as men, women, and transgender individuals. Parents and caregivers were also affected by these crimes and were offered support. 

Empower Yolo provides services for survivors of human trafficking including advocacy, counseling, safe shelter, and more. There’s also a designated human trafficking advocate who provides survivor-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive support for survivors of this level of trauma.   

“Human trafficking survivors exemplify the immeasurable strength of the human spirit—each person is a testament to resilience, courage, and unwavering determination to rebuild shattered lives,” says Jen Vasquez, Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate, Empower Yolo. 

In an effort to raise awareness and highlight services available to survivors, Empower Yolo is co-sponsoring the following in-person event:

Monday, January 22, 2024, 6-8 p.m.; Woodland Community and Senior Center, 2001 East St., Woodland.

In partnership with the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, Yolo County Office of Education, Health and Human Services, 3 Strands Global Foundation, and the City of Woodland we invite you to come learn from survivors and a panel of experts on how to end human trafficking. For this event, there will be youth-focused and adult-focused presentations to help community members learn the signs, recognize red flags and hear ways to help a friend or family member impacted by human trafficking. 

We encourage community members to get involved by attending the event to learn more about the issues and what they can do to support their neighbors, friends, and the community. Individuals wishing for a higher level of commitment are encouraged to volunteer for Empower Yolo and/or Yolo Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to work one-on-one with survivors.

In partnership with Soroptimist, Davis Empower Yolo will be hosting a toiletry drive for human trafficking survivors in January.  Please donate new, travel-size toiletry items such as conditioner, body wash, soap, deodorant, and 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 the resource center at 441 D Street, Davis during office hours.  Donations can also be brought to the event on January 22.  With these donated items, Soroptimist will be creating comfort backpacks and delivering them to Empower Yolo and to local hospitals for human trafficking survivors.  

Wear Blue Day is January 11. Wear blue the color of human trafficking awareness to show your support; post a photo with #WearBlueDay and tag @empower_yolo. You can also support survivors by donating to Empower Yolo’s human trafficking program any time at empoweryolo.org. Please follow our efforts throughout the month on Facebook @empoweryolo, Instagram, and Twitter @empower_yolo.

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. 

Thank you to Bayer for sponsoring Empower Yolo’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month efforts; we are grateful for their continued support.  

Supporting Empower Yolo and our community partners is a crucial step in aiding human trafficking survivors on their path to recovery.  Your commitment contributes to a network of care and resources, fostering hope, empowerment, and resilience in those who have endured unimaginable hardships.  Together, we stand as a force against exploitation, working towards a world where survivors can rebuild their lives with dignity and strength. 

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