January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Second only to the illegal drug trade, human trafficking is the world’s second most profitable criminal enterprise and in California, there is an increasing need to provide more assistance and care for the victims and survivors of these heinous crimes, according to the Law and Justice section of Yolo County’s official website.

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against their will. The one exception involves minors and commercial sex. Inducing a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.

Traffickers, also known as pimps can be anyone – including family members, foster parents, friends, gangs, trusted adults, or “boyfriends” – who profits from the selling of a person to a buyer. Traffickers target vulnerable children and adults and lure them into sex trafficking using physical and psychological manipulation, and sometimes they may resort to violence. Any child may be vulnerable to such a person who promises to meet their emotional and physical needs. Often traffickers will create a seemingly loving or caring relationship with their victim in order to establish trust and allegiance. This manipulative relationship tries to ensure the victim will remain loyal to the exploiter even in the face of severe victimization. These relationships may often begin online before progressing to a real-life encounter.

“When I meet educators and parents, they are always shocked to learn that our youth are especially impacted; we live in a small community and they are not expecting such an appalling industry to silently flourish amongst us,” says Empower Yolo Advocate, Karen Hernandez.

There are many signs/indicators of human trafficking such as the following: chronic truant/runaway/homeless youth; excess cash or motel/hotel room keys; multiple cell phones; signs of branding (tattoos, jewelry); having expensive items with no known source of income (especially hair extensions, manicures, cell phones, clothes); lying about age/false identification/inconsistencies in information being reported; dramatic personality change; evasive behavior especially around a “new boyfriend”; talk about being “taken care of”; disengagement from school, sports, community; lack of knowledge of a given community or whereabouts; evidence of being controlled; inability to move or leave a job; bruises or other signs of physical abuse; fear, depression, appearance of being tired or overworked; not speaking on ones own behalf; no passport or other forms of identification or documentation; working excessively long hours; living in place of employment; checking into hotels/motels with older adults and referring to males as boyfriend or “daddy”, which may be slang for pimp; poor physical or dental health; tattoos/branding on the neck and/or lower back; untreated sexual transmitted infections/diseases.

“Sex trafficking of minors in our community is something that is difficult to accept, but it is happening every day in Yolo County to our youth. I am grateful for all the efforts to stop the exploitation of children by bringing awareness to this crime, services to its victims, and consequences to the exploiters,” says Cameron Handley, Director of Yolo County’s Children’s Advocacy Center.

Yolo County is not immune to issues of labor and sex trafficking. Local law enforcement agencies, advocates, prosecutors, social workers, probation officers, mental health providers, healthcare professionals and more are organizing and collaborating in an effort to raise awareness, provide services to survivors and prosecute offenders. No one system, agency, or individual is capable of stopping human trafficking alone. In order to successfully combat this national epidemic, agencies, as well as individuals, must create strategic partnerships to respond to the issue on all levels. Yolo County has a coordinated community response so that when victims are identified services and support can start immediately.

Empower Yolo has advocates on call to respond to a human trafficking investigation and offer support to a victim whether it be at a local hospital, law enforcement agency, forensic medical exam, CPS office, or forensic interview. An effective response to human trafficking can be created by leveraging existing resources and collaborating with dedicated partners in an effort to fully combat this epidemic.

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

A free film screening of California’s Forgotten Children: Let their voices be heard – Wednesday, January 29, 2020; 6-8:30 p.m. at the Woodland Community and Senior Center

“California’s Forgotten Children” is a feature documentary about child sex trafficking. The film recounts true stories of girls and boys who were commercially sexually exploited in California and are now survivors and courageous leaders fighting for the rights of victims worldwide. This film gives viewers the tools to combat this epidemic and empowers survivors on their path to freedom.  To register contact Jennifer Davis (530) 666-8372, or [email protected].

Empower Yolo provides services for survivors of human trafficking including safe shelter. There’s also a designated human trafficking advocate who works with survivors providing support, information, resources, and advocacy.

We encourage community members to get involved by attending the film screening to learn more about the issues and what they can do to support their neighbors, friends and community. Empower Yolo will also be hosting a toiletry drive for human trafficking survivors for the month of January. Please donate new, travel-sized 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 (smaller 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; or give any time to our human trafficking program at: empoweryolo.org. Please follow our efforts throughout the month on Facebook (@empoweryolo), Instagram and Twitter (@empower_yolo).

For more information on human trafficking or upcoming events contact Celina Alveraz at: [email protected], or call our 24-hour hotline for support at 530-662-1133. All services are free, safe, and confidential.

Thank you to Andy and Sharon Opfell for sponsoring Empower Yolo’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month outreach efforts; we are grateful for their continued support. We also appreciate Soroptimist Davis and Woodland for providing comfort backpacks for human trafficking survivors.

Empower Yolo thanks all of our supporters and donors for their support throughout the year helping us in our mission of promoting safe, healthy and resilient communities. Stay connected with Empower Yolo in 2020 at empoweryolo.org and for information on exciting events and opportunities in the New Year.

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