The crowd’s eyes were glued to a projector screen. The room grew silent. A woman’s voice with a lyrical cadence played in a video called “The Making of a Girl.”
“One day you come out of school, there’s a guy in a Cadillac telling you how pretty you are. For the first time, you realize that somebody is really interested in you. He’s asking about your dreams, your hopes and where your father is at, and he says he could be a daddy to you.”
The video was played at a training aimed at assisting survivors of human trafficking on March 27. It was held in the fishbowl on the second floor of Humboldt State University’s library.
The video depicted a hypothetical life of a young girl facing sexual exploitation. The founder of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) Rachel Lloyd narrated the video.
“This video is triggering for some, but I think it is really important,” Tabitha Thomas, director of response services at WEAVE, said.
The training was offered by WEAVE, International Rescue Committee and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. Each one of these organizations is a part of the Greater Sacramento Partnership Against Trafficking, which provides services to victims of human trafficking in Northern California.
“When you do this work and hear a person’s story, you start to hear that for a lot of these victims. It becomes a way of life,” Thomas said. “It becomes what they know, particularly if they have been sexually exploited at a young age.”
A California Senate Bill 1322 bars law enforcement from arresting sex workers under the age of 18 for soliciting or engaging in prostitution. Under this law, minors won’t be treated as criminals. In the training, Thomas explained the problematic language surrounding individuals who are sexually exploited.
“We may have heard terms such as child prostitute or criminal,” Thomas said. “A lot of these words are thrown around at youth that are in criminal detentions. When actually, we are recognizing that they are victims.”
Thomas described a website through WEAVE, Your Clean Slate, intended to be used as a tool to help youth.
“It is geared toward youth to evaluate whether the relationship they are in is healthy or not healthy,” Thomas said. “There is a quiz they can take, suggestions, and a 24-hour support line.”
The recent legalization of recreational marijuana in California holds a possibility of increasing incidents of human trafficking.
Anti-trafficking and outreach training specialist Rodger Freeman gave a presentation during the training.
“When we think about human trafficking, we think about TV shows or movies we’ve seen. We will literally think about someone being chained to a bed or a post and treated like an animal. That has happened. But a vast majority of trafficker’s use an emotional component as a control mechanism, verbal abuse to manipulation victims.”
Immigration attorney Laura Flores-Dixit works for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and spoke at the training, focusing on undocumented citizens and how they intersect with human trafficking, as well as labor violations.
“We represented a family who knowingly went to work on a marijuana farm before it was legal,” Flores-Dixit said.
Upon the family’s arrival, their documentation was taken. They were not given shelter or food, Flores-Dixit said. They were forced to live in the elements and had to work 17 hours a day.
Flores-Dixit wanted the audience to understand that if somebody is not a U.S citizen, they should have absolutely no contact with marijuana until they’re lawful citizens.
Timiza Wash, the anti-trafficking program manager for WEAVE, has been working for marginalized communities for over 20 years.
“Being able to navigate the process according to the survivor is challenging, but I look at my job as rewarding. I’m not the expert, they are,” Wash said. “The main thing for our organization is to give a person options because in exploitation, they haven’t had options.”
If a survivor has a specific need that WEAVE is unable to assist in, then they’ll refer victims to a different organization that is a part of the Greater Sacramento Partnership Against Trafficking.
“This work is a movement for me and this can’t be done by one person. It is all a collaboration,” Wash said. “We want them to know that we are here and can support them through their process.”