7th Annual Central Valley Conference Against Human Trafficking
Fresno, CA–The Central Valley Against Human Trafficking (CVAHT) held their annual convention in Fresno this February 24, 2016. Present were social workers from many parts of the Valley including Kern, Tulare, Madera, Merced, and even from Los Angeles.
Guests included Keynote speaker Kay Buck, a leading advocate in the fight against human trafficking, as well as local representatives from the Marjarie Mason Center in Fresno.
Topics included defining human trafficking as pertains to local populations, identifying needs, being able to characterize trafficking behaviors, law enforcement efforts, and ways to engage the local community in preventative activities.
Our morning began with Pre-Conference Workshop #3: “The Game: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Innovation in Prevention.” Hosts Lauryn Muzny and Stacy Gomez from Marjarie Mason Center presented a powerpoint, followed with guest speakers from the Probation Office and FBI, during the first hour.
Advocates defined trafficking characteristics including the scale of the crisis worldwide. Local law enforcement talked about the difficulty of apprehending minors and the detailed work needed to put pimps behind bars.
This was followed by a presentation by Jennifer Boteilho of the Tulare Rape Crisis Center. The presenters provided a slideshow on current trends in trafficking criminals such as recruiting minors from elementary schools. Advocates displayed their work combatting school-aged trafficking through formation of youth clubs, such as My Strength (for boys) and My Voice (for girls). Community activities also included Walk-a-Mile (in her shoes). Club alumni from My Strength, and My Voice offered testimony about their successes.
CVAHT had emphasized that this year is a labor-trafficking theme and so the emphasis included minors, young adults, and farm or indentured servant labor, but much less about possible captive immigrant-adult prostitution situations such as massage parlors.
During breaks, visitors checked out exhibitor booths with displays from social service departments from Tulare to fair trade social enterprises.
Brian Angus, CEO and Michelle Tutunjian, Sanctuary Director of Fresno Equal Opportunity Council opened the afternoon conference with a description of the crisis.
The keynote speaker, Ms. Buck, showcased the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST LA)’s projects in setting up rehabilitation housing and services for labor-trafficking victims, most notably 72 Thai women recovered from a sweat-house factory. Their goal is to not only successfully transition women but develop policy advocacy and practice for national system change. CAST helped provide new legislation to close the gap in foreign labor contractors recruitment disclosure through registry with the State of California. They also review proposed new legislation and provide recommendations.
Fresno Police Sergeant Curtis Chastain held a 1-hour panel discussion with federal and local agents regarding investigating and prosecuting human traffickers. He stated that the FCPD collects cases and turns them over to the Department of Justice for prioritization, and it has resulted in 36 convictions. In coordination with local transitional services such as Salvation Army, YMCA, local churches, and county social services, 360 victims have received comprehensive care. Chastain also mentioned that the City is increasingly seeking intrastate cooperation with law enforcement and agencies in the East Bay, North Bay, and in the Los Angeles area.
The DOJ Attorney Mia Giocomazzi talked about a “victim-based approach” including the challenges faced from those “who come from the system and are recruiting each other”; Melissa Barrios of the US EEOC talked about the need to screen guest-worker and temporary worker programs; and Mauro Ramirez of the FBI repeatedly stated that cultural barriers need to be overcome.
The Fresno EOC CVAHT spent most of the remaining part of the afternoon with a lengthy presentation by three survivors, two of whom were labor trafficking victims and who discussed their experiences all the way through their “successful transition.”
By and large the conference went really well, and for the social workers, especially, it was a day of continuing education with little opportunities for thinking about ways to infuse anti-human trafficking mitigation into their funded services.
Due to the social services casework perspective, most of the conference was focused on integrating a victims-needs based approach instead of policy and proposed legislation, or more law enforcement accountability in rounding up more perpetrators.
However with a full-house during the 2016 annual conference, it’s a good sign that the movement is taking shape in the Valley. The Pre-Conference Workshop especially provided the community with creative ideas about an “ecological model of community prevention.”
Fresno is on its way to hear what is happening and be the change. Central Valley Justice Coalition (cvjusticecoalition.com) is hosting “Human Trafficking 101,” an introductory class on human trafficking and how you can respond. Classes will be offered at Fresno First Baptist Church on March 14, 2016 and also May 12, 2016 from 7-9pm.