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Fresno EOC Sanctuary and Support Services hosted the Central Valley 10th Annual Conference on Human Trafficking with over 400 guests in attendance. The all-day event held workshops, a vendor fair and the launch of the Fresno City Mayor’s Office Initiative to Combat Human Trafficking, among other conference activities.

“It’s great to be a part of something that I’ve been working with different groups behind the scenes for a while and to now see how much this Valley is doing,” Rebecca Bender, nationally recognized expert and keynote speaker said. “You have great organizations, survivor support groups and leadership in your community.”

What started with 30 attendees, has grown into an event known regionally for its multi-disciplinary approach, educating concerned citizens, professionals, students, and local organizations.

“A lot of the topics were really informative on the topic of human trafficking,” Jiru Balista, Fresno Pacific University student, said. “It was nice to see an insider’s perspective, someone who’s really been trafficked, moved on from there and built their lives out of that particular environment. It takes heart for someone to really disclose all of that,” she says of keynote speaker Rebecca Bender’s address.

Other survivors were also in attendance at the conference; many of whom are now involved in the fight to end human trafficking. “I’ve always wanted to lead a movement and have people listen to me, but it was always a negative thing in my life,” Staysha Hackmann, Survivor Leader and Coordinator of the Jackson County Sex Trafficking Intervention Task Force, said. “When I was finally at point when I was healthy, confident and secure, I started desiring other opportunities.”

Hackmann, introduced to Bender in 2013, hopes to bring back the insight she gained from the conference, to her own task force in Oregon. “This is a really great opportunity to learn and people just coming is really awesome because maybe you’re saying ‘I don’t know anything about this but I want to know because my community matters.’”

Attendees took home knowledge on survivor- and trauma-informed practices, along with a copy of Mayor Lee Brand’s initiative, introduced the same day. Brand and H Spees, Director of Strategic Initiatives, spoke on Fresno’s dedication to collaborate with local organizations and initiatives in an effort to end human trafficking.

“It’s unacceptable, we need to face this problem head on,” Brand said. “We cannot rest until human trafficking and slavery are ended in Fresno.”

Through Bender’s experience and discussion of local efforts, attendees got a well-rounded look at what Human Trafficking looks like not just in Fresno, but nationwide. While the conference was a success, it does not end here. This year’s conference served as a way for individuals to learn more about local opportunities and ways to get involved. “I’m hopeful everyone here is doing such great work and they are able to take all the information they are learning to their own counties,” Bender said.

Anyone can make a difference in their own community by recognizing the common red flags of human trafficking, referring potential victims to local resources, reporting suspected abuse to the National Human Trafficking Hotline or donating to Fresno EOC Central Valley Against Human Trafficking (CVAHT).

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

Fresno EOC Central Valley Against Human Trafficking (CVAHT) is always in need of funds to provide emergency hotel vouchers, pre-paid cellular phones and gift cards to grocery stores and stores including Wal-Mart for essential items such as food, diapers, and clothing. To make a donation, please visit

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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