A group of College of the Canyons (COC) students and faculty are working together to end what many call “modern day slavery.”
The students of the MyGenerationMyFight (MyGenMyFight) club presented a two-hour human trafficking seminar to COC students, staff and faculty Wednesday.
The seminar included a personal survivor story from Dawn Schiller and a panel discussion that included representatives from ZOE International, Saving Innocence, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Through the seminar, students hoped to bring awareness to the issue and explain the signs of and solutions to human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery involving exploitation,” Schiller, the keynote speaker said. “The word is slavery because it is the complete lack of freedom and taking away of self and identity.”
Schiller was teenager living in Glendale, Calif. when the infamous John Holmes seduced her, abused her physically, emotionally and mentally and trafficked her on the streets of Hollywood.
“I consented to someone who had actively seduced me, manipulated me and preyed upon me for six months,” she said. “It became a world when I didn’t have a world unless it was through this small lens of him [Holmes] and him alone.”
Schiller survived the Wonderland Avenue murders in 1981 – four unsolved murders that occurred in a known Los Angeles drug house, of which Holmes was a suspect. Holmes escaped with her across the country shortly after.
Ultimately, a couple in Florida saw the abuse Schiller was facing and took her away from the situation she was in.
“It was the intervention of neighbors and acquaintances who never turned their back on me,” Schiller said. “Soon after that I got in touch with my family and was able to tell them where I was… Law enforcement came and I turned him [Holmes] over to the police and I never saw him again.”
Following Schiller’s story, a panel of individuals from ZOE International, Saving Innocence, the Department of Mental Health and the LA County Sheriff’s Department discussed how their organizations address human trafficking, how to spot the warning signs and how individuals could help fight against the issue.
“We are working on the healing side of human trafficking,” said Dr. Makesha Jones-Chambers, a clinical psychologist who works with Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health in the Transition Age Youth Bureau. “We are working with children and adults that have complex trauma.”
Amber Davies who works with Saving Innocence said her organization works to save and restore victims of human trafficking and provide 24/7 response, and Hanne Fellers of ZOE International said her organization works to educate students and does anti-trafficking work.
Detective Ray Bercini, an officer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Human Trafficking Bureau and the lead coordinator for the LA Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, said the department uses a “victim-centered approach to combat human trafficking.”
He stressed the importance of working with the community to combat human trafficking and to raise awareness in the community.
“This is something we want to work on together with the community,” he said. “We have to be actively participating in finding these types of crime and the perpetrators that are doing it.”
Both Fellers and Davies stressed the importance of educating individuals about the issue as a method of human trafficking prevention.
“Continue having conversations with your friends and families because a lot of people don’t know that this exists,” Davies said. “It happens to a lot of people that didn’t even know about it.”
Jones-Chambers also stressed the importance of creating legislation to keep individuals accountable and posting fliers to make people aware.
“We are trying to get the word out in Santa Clarita about this and the biggest thing is through child safety,” she said.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_