Editor Note: This is part of an ongoing series that highlights unique community partnerships that Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (Fresno EOC) and its various programs have throughout County and the Central Valley and impact that these collaboratives have on peoples’ lives through the region.
Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (Fresno EOC) will continue its tradition of engaging diverse partners to tackle systemic issues in Fresno County and the Central Valley region by hosting the 8th Annual Central Valley Conference on Human Trafficking on Monday, April 3rd at the Veterans Memorial District, located in Clovis. The theme of this years’ conference is “Be Free, Building Bridges”.
Fresno EOC Central Valley Against Human Trafficking Project serves a six-county region including Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, and Tulare Counties and works directly with the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It provides support for victims of human trafficking regardless of age, gender, or immigration status. While human trafficking is a problem all across America, it is found to be a particular issue in California. Calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline from California are nearly double that of the second highest state.
The conference has grown substantially from its first year in 2010 where there were less than 75 attendees, to 2017’s sold out conference with nearly 500 attendees. The increase of over 600% in less than eight years demonstrates both the “increased awareness of the issue, as well as the collaborative work of our regional partnerships,” according to Project Manager, Melissa Gomez.
“As the conference grows there is an emphasis to build capacity for greater breadth and depth within our partnerships,” shared Sarah Johnston, the Outreach Coordinator for the Project. Highlighting this, is a planned Justice Roundtable that will focus on the importance of collaborations with local and federal law enforcement and prosecutors with a goal to promote a victim-centered model for justice. Panelists include representatives of the City of Fresno Police Department’s Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce, FBI Violent Crimes Against Children Intelligence Unit, Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, Madera County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Labor. The presence of key stakeholders demonstrates a collective awareness that human trafficking is a growing human rights issue and the absolute necessity for a collaborative response.
The conference will also include over 20 exhibitors and partnering organizations including: Tagua Fair Trade for a Better World, Centro La Familia Advocacy, Inc., Central Valley Justice Coalition, Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Valley Crisis Center of Merced, Marjaree Mason Center, Family Services of Tulare County, and Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.
One of the goals of Community Action Agencies such Fresno EOC is to identify unmet community needs, by inviting key stakeholders to the table with a goal to create a forum for dialogue, advocacy and ultimately the hope of discovering positive solutions. This years’ Central Valley Conference on Human Trafficking includes all of those hallmarks.
The conference closes with a session on survivor engagement entitled “More Than a Story” and the final “Call to Action” will be led by a survivor of labor trafficking who is an advocate for victim rights and draws attention to the voice of the under-represented male survivor.
While at first glance the issue of human trafficking may seem daunting, there are many ways to get involved and make a difference. The community can respond by looking beneath the surface to recognize the red flags of human trafficking, referring potential victims to local resources and reporting suspected abuse to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Common red flags of human trafficking are:
- Unpaid or not paid fairly for work
- Unable to leave job due to fear and/or debt
- Feels threatened or unsafe
- Forced to perform sex acts
- Lives at his/her workplace
- Seeks permission to eat/sleep, etc.
- Abused-physically, sexually, emotionally
- Lacks control over personal schedule, money, identification or travel documents
- Phone is monitored
If you suspect someone may be a victim of trafficking can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” to BeFree (233733).