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On Tuesday, March 20, 2018, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission continued its longstanding tradition of engaging diverse partners by hosting the Be Free 9th Annual Central Valley Conference on Human Trafficking. The event was held at the Veterans Memorial District, located in Clovis.

Keynote speaker, Russell G. Wilson, an anti-trafficking expert, consultant and researcher, inspired the audience with a theme of “Restoring Hope” and provided an insightful look at how victims face their daily lives as well as the tumultuous journey from sex trafficking victim to self-actualized “thriver.” His message reflected years of research in the U.S. and Cambodia, as well as highlighted his personal journey as a male CSEC survivor and former foster child.

The conference has grown substantially from its first year in 2010 where there were less than 75 attendees, to 2017 and 2018’s sold out conferences, and included members of social service organizations, law enforcement, the faith community and concerned citizens. “The turn-out this year was fantastic. It’s clear that folks are more aware than ever before about this issue and want to get educated to make a difference in their local communities,” shared Project Manager, Melissa Gomez.

Workshops such as “Redefining Justice for Labor Trafficking Survivors,” “The Grey Line between Victim and Perpetrator,” and “Trauma Informed Art that Heals,” addressed complexities within the criminal justice system and the importance of multiple avenues for healing. One survivor shared her process of learning English and enrolling in college to reach her career aspiration of becoming a primary school teacher. Other speakers such as Debra Rush, the CEO and co-founder of Breaking the Chains, described the process of establishing the Central Valley’s first adult safe house, which is currently helping women escape systems of sexual exploitation through advocacy, direct services, housing, and education. 

The conference concluded with a dynamic dance performance by Fresno artist, Jasmin La Caris to Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise,” challenging each attendee to make a difference through a personal contribution to the movement.

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 included all of those hallmarks.

About Central Valley Against Human Trafficking

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 has provided support for over 600 survivors 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.

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.
  • Isolated
  • 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).


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