top of page

Five years later: How we still fight human trafficking

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US! Five years ago TODAY we successfully passed "A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY OF SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA, PROCLAIMING SUPPORT FOR STRENGTHENING THE FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING" and on it goes saying more awesome things. We count this as the day our work began, May 5th, 2015. It is also cool that it has all those 5's. And it is also Cinco de Mayo, and #GivingTuesdayNow, and Taco Tuesday. So many reasons to celebrate... What led us to that day was my own fury-driven activism. When I learned that human trafficking aka modern-day slavery was alive and well in the US, and even in my own community, I was like, OMG AKA WT#? As I learned more about the conditions behind it all, I was angered by the bullying of the broken, disgusted by the profits driven by power and privilege in the business of systematic exploitation, and indignant at the leveraging of gender and power inequality for the purposes of labor and sex trafficking. So yes, I had to do something. I, like many, was motivated to action. Perhaps imagining ourselves as going out to the street, locking eyes with some broken soul and whisking them off to safety like a member of the Liam Neeson's army from the movie Taken...But back in real life, what was the proper action? I am not in law enforcement nor social work. I’m not a therapist nor an assassin. So what can I do? I am a corporate trainer with a background in hotel room service. Cue the lightbulb moment: I will train hotels how to identify and report the activity as it shows up the hotel industry (at the time, the stats indicated about 80% of domestic sex and labor trafficking reports occurred in hotels). With that, 5 years ago, in the 5th month of 2015, the i-5 Freedom Network was born. I came up with the name to while driving home on the I-5 Freeway, inspired by how I could influence and connect the community on this issue by training all of our local hotels and motels seen from the I-5 freeway, and we would create a Freedom Network. We were even on trend with our lower case “i” which I like because I think it looks like a little person. Plot twist: hotels were not as keen on getting this information as we thought. Our 45-minute in-person training was competing with OSHA training, sexual harassment training, Rewards Points training…so much training. And rarely do people jump for joy when they are told that they need more training. So traction was slow. In the meanwhile our presence and reputation as an anti-human trafficking organization was growing, and we were invited to speak on the topic as far as Florida and to Tijuana, so technically we are international now. After events I would often get the question: So what do you do after you rescue the girls? As noted above, we are not Liam Neesons, we are not qualified for extractions. But it bothered me that we were so removed from those we were trying to help. Cue the next lightbulb moment: We will bring corporate training seminars to survivors of trafficking. The moment came to me at the airport on my way to a work conference, and hence WAY2WORK was born. Again, on trend, using textspeak to replace full words, and more efficient yet, W2W. As of May of 2020, every organization is doing the Great Covid Pivot dance and adapting how they do business in the time of coronavirus. Instead of fighting political warfare on Jack Ryan, John Krasinski started a new web series SGN wherein he shares the best of humanity and we all collectively weep with gratitude. Instead of dressing for work, we wear our pajama bottoms (please wear bottoms) and a respectable shirt (definitely wear a shirt) to Zoom. Instead of table service, restaurants are delivering hot meals and much-needed cocktails to customer’s doorsteps. At my house we pretend we are a trendy new restaurant where you get to assemble and prepare all the meals yourself. Bonus Tip: if you have a drink in both hands you cannot accidentally touch your face. Five years in, our commitment to disrupt and prevent these human rights violations has not abated, only how we do it has changed. Currently, it looks a lot like the opening credits of The Brady Bunch while on the lookout for Zoom-bombers.

COVID-19 has required a change in the trafficking business model, and the indicators show that the demand for cheap labor and sexual services has only increased. Therefore we must change our model as well. Here is what we are up to: 1. Hotel training Hotels are in survival mode right now. To make it easy for team associates to fulfill the CA SB 970 mandate requiring hotels to train staff on human trafficking, we’ve created a free training tool kit. Staff members can sit on their couch and learn and engage with the content. When they’re back at their post, they will be equipped and ready to identify and report trafficking activity in the industry and on property.

2. Community Awareness

Our Mission: To mobilize entire communities to engage in the fight against human trafficking. To achieve this we have started a bi-weekly webinar series: COVID-19 and Human Trafficking: Community Q&A. We’ve offered two webinars, with almost 150 people registering.

3. Survivor Support We were in week 2 of an 8-week Dale Carnegie Course in our Way2Work program for survivors when we had to halt the workshops. We’ve spent the last several weeks shifting that curriculum online and building our own laptop lending library for those who did not have access or had to share with homeschooling kids. We resumed the training last week, which is a HUGE win as all the participants were anxious and excited to restart, emerging with tangible skills that will prepare them for a post-COVID world. We will also start a series of mini online workshops to provide immediate applicable skills such as stress management, sales skills, managing conflict, and financial literacy.

4. Legislative Advocacy

Working closely with the OC Human Trafficking Task Force, we learned that the demand for services has not diminished. Illicit Massage Businesses (IMBs) have seen continued activity which is a clear public health concern and it is not deemed an essential business. We note those IMBs that continue to see customers and report to the OCSD, which can then be cited and closed for being in conflict with the county and state mandates. And so, we take a moment to be grateful. Five years ago, this was an idea in my head and now it’s an organization with six board members and innovative programs. In nonprofit years, we are statistically middle-aged so we raise our glasses (one in each hand) to our stamina and successes even in the middle of a pandemic. And then we get back to work. Human trafficking and the exploitation of the vulnerable will not cease simply because of social distancing.

On this Giving Tuesday Now, we invite you to take 5 minutes to sign The Pledge,

And join our event tonight, margaritas and tacos optional, as we provide community awareness tips on cyber safety: Community Q&A: Cyber safety for kids when the classroom is the living room

42 views0 comments


bottom of page