It Happens Here Too

Citrus Heights, CA  |  Story by Shaunna Boyd

Local Rotarians Fight Human Trafficking

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) - Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world; it is a $150 billion industry, with 40 million people trafficked worldwide. The FBI estimates that every day 100,000 people are trafficked in the United States, and the Sacramento region is actually considered to be a hotbed for sex trafficking. “People think it’s not happening here, they think it’s a third world problem, but it is happening here. It’s happening everywhere,” said Gail Moxley, a member of the Rotary Club of Citrus Heights.

The local Rotary District 5180 has launched a large-scale campaign to combat human trafficking in our area. There are 41 clubs in District 5180—including clubs in Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Carmichael, Rancho Cordova, Roseville, Sacramento, and Gridley.  Clubs throughout the district are funding an education and public awareness campaign with approximately $340,000 in combined grant and local funding. Rotary members Brian Gladden and Bob Deering initiated the project three years ago. “We had been wanting to do something…to spotlight what we do here in the region but to also affect change on a global scale,” said Gladden, assistant governor for District 5180.

At the beginning of the project, they didn’t know much about human trafficking, so they spent months getting educated about the issue. They met with multiple agencies to ask “What can we do to help?” They met with victims’ services organizations (such as WEAVE, My Sister’s House, and Family Justice Center); healthcare providers; educational leaders; law enforcement agencies (including the FBI, Sacramento County Sheriff, the Attorney General’s office, the District Attorney, and California Highway Patrol);  and State assemblymen Kevin Kiley, Ken Cooley, and Rob Bonta. These meetings revealed that human trafficking was mostly being addressed reactively through victims’ services (addressing the needs of survivors) and law enforcement (arresting and prosecuting offenders). But there were no prevention programs in place to stop trafficking before it occurs.

It became clear that the key to prevention is education. The Rotary was referred to 3 Strands (a local non-profit dedicated to fighting human trafficking), which has established curriculum for educating youth and the general public about the issue. The approach has two components: educational trainings brought directly into the schools and a public awareness campaign.

In partnership with 3 Strands and the Voices and Faces Project (an organization for survivors of trafficking and sexual violence), District 5180 rolled out a three-month public awareness campaign from July – October 2018. They paid for space on digital billboards on major freeways and posters, signs, and advertisements at light rail stations, on busses, and at gas stations throughout the region. “The Ugly Truth” campaign dispels myths about so-called sex workers and offers facts about the exploitative and abusive nature of sex trafficking. The three-month campaign was extremely successful, reaching an estimated 78 million people. “It was a huge success to enlighten and educate the region about the myths and realities of human trafficking,” said Gladden.

The educational component of the project is currently underway. District 5180 has met with every school district in the region to inform them about these trainings and to get schools signed up. District 5180 has enough funds to pay for trainings for 80,000 students and teachers. Trainings for younger students have softer messaging, while more details are provided to the older students. In 5th grade, the focus is on making safe choices. In 7th grade, the students learn that each person has an intrinsic value and that people are not commodities. Students in 9th grade are taught real-world signs to identify if they are being targeted for trafficking. The final level in 11th grade explains trafficking as modern-day slavery, putting the issue into historical context.

Teachers, administrators, and parents should also be on the lookout for signs of human trafficking: frequent absences from school, having two cell phones, having new jewelry, a new tattoo (which traffickers sometimes use to brand their victims), or a major change in how a student dresses.

It is particularly important to educate younger students because the target age for sex trafficking is 12 – 14 years old. The majority of trafficking victims are vulnerable young girls targeted through social media. It’s not typically a kidnapping situation where someone is taken, sold, and never seen again. Most often the victims are trafficked right in their home towns, by men they have been brainwashed into loving and trusting. These men use fraud and coercion to get their victims to perform sex acts for money to prove their love. Many of these girls go home or back to school the next day and repeat the cycle over and over. “They begin thinking it is normal,” said Gladden.

District 5180 is hoping to do more than just prevent trafficking in our region; Gladden said, “The goal is to create best practices that can be mirrored anywhere in the world.” Educating youth and the general public about the signs of trafficking will hopefully result in greater awareness, and eventually a safer world for our kids.