January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise and is an estimated $150 billion-a-year global industry. It is a form of modern day slavery that profits from the exploitation of our most vulnerable populations, State of California, Department of Justice, Office of Attorney General webpage on Human Trafficking https://oag.ca.gov/human-trafficking.

In recent years, criminal organizations have expanded from drug and firearm trafficking to the trafficking of human beings. They have set up commercial sex rings that profit from the sale of human beings, in particular young women and girls, Office of Attorney General webpage on Human Trafficking.

Human trafficking in Yolo County – human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons or modern-day slavery, 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, and may involve the use of violence, threats, lies, or debt bondage, Office of Attorney General webpage on Human Trafficking.

As a diverse cultural center and popular destination for immigrants with multiple international borders, California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States. Yolo County is not immune to issues of labor and sex trafficking. “In one year, Empower Yolo saw 36 human trafficking survivors – 2 labor trafficking and 34 sex trafficking survivors,” says Empower Yolo’s Associate Director, Celina Alveraz.

Local law enforcement agencies and advocates are working hard together in an effort to raise awareness, provide services to survivors and prosecute offenders. Underage minors are a particularly vulnerable population that needs protection. Yolo County is focusing its efforts on sex trafficking. “Most of the County’s response has been for adult and minor sex trafficking,” says Alveraz.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is exploitation of minors for commercial sex and is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used. Human trafficking does not require travel or transportation of the victim across local, state or international borders. However, sex trafficking of juveniles is separately defined as causing, inducing, persuading, or attempting to cause, induce or persuade a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, Office of Attorney General webpage on Human Trafficking.

“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.

There is no single profile of a trafficking victim. Victims of human trafficking include not only men and women lured into forced labor by the promise of a better life in the United States, but also boys and girls who were born and raised here in California. Trafficking victims come from diverse backgrounds in terms of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, and citizenship status, but one characteristic that they usually share is some form of vulnerability. Trafficking victims are often isolated from their families and social networks and, in some cases, are separated from their country of origin, native language, and culture. Many domestic victims of sex trafficking are runaway or homeless youth and/or come from backgrounds of sexual and physical abuse, incest, poverty, or addiction. Traffickers exploit these vulnerabilities, promising the victims love, a good job, or a more stable life, Office of Attorney General webpage on Human Trafficking.

Empower Yolo has had increased success with identifying and responding to survivors. Our numbers have increased this year due to better identification and screening methods. This includes advocacy, shelter, therapy and legal clients,” says Alveraz.

In an effort to raise awareness, and highlight resources and services for human trafficking survivors Empower Yolo is highlighting two events in the month of January:

California’s Forgotten Children – Let their voices be heard – Tuesday, January 15, 2019; Yolo County Office of Education, 1280 Santa Anita Court, Woodland, 6-8 p.m.

​”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 is a free film screening event open to educators, those who work with at-risk youth, and community members who would like to learn more about child sexual exploitation. This film gives viewers the tools to combat this epidemic and empowers survivors on their path to freedom. Let’s put an end to commercial sexual exploitation and not leave any child behind. Following the film there will be a panel of local experts explaining Yolo County’s Response to child sex trafficking. To register contact Jennifer Davis (530) 666-8372, or [email protected]

Human Trafficking Community Forum – Wednesday, January 23, 2019; Woodland Community and Senior Center, 2001 East Street, Woodland; 6-8 p.m.

In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month the Woodland Police Department, Empower Yolo, Dignity Health, PROTECT, and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office will host a community event to discuss education and awareness regarding child sexual exploitation in our community.  The event will host two separate presentations, one presented by 3Strands Global for children 12+ to learn the signs of human trafficking and what to do if you need help; and the other presented by law enforcement and survivor, Jenna McKaye. It will be followed by a Q&A discussion with local experts. Please join us to learn more about this issue and how to keep our youth safe. This event is free and open to community members 12 and older.

Empower Yolo provides services for survivors of human trafficking including safe shelter. “We have a designated human trafficking advocate who works with survivors providing support, information, resources, and advocacy,” says Alveraz.

We encourage community members to get involved by attending the events to learn more about the issues and what they can do to support their neighbors, friends and community. We are always in need of response backpacks with supplies including: toiletries, clothing, snacks, water, and comfort items. Gift cards to local coffee shops, restaurants, fast food chains, or any store are helpful. These items are used to take clients out to talk and connect, or when survivors have escaped and need a new start.

For more information or to schedule a human trafficking presentation contact Celina Alveraz at [email protected]. Call our 24-hour hotline for support at 530-662-1133. All services are free, safe, and confidential.

Empower Yolo thanks our donors for their support in 2018 helping us in our mission of promoting safe, healthy and resilient communities. Stay connected with Empower Yolo in 2019 and get information on events and opportunities at empoweryolo.org.

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