According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 705 cases of human trafficking have been reported in California this year.
College of the Canyons (COC) hoped to raise awareness of this statewide issue during its one-day conference titled “It’s Still Happening Right Here! Human Trafficking.”
“It is hard to believe that human trafficking is an issue that plagues our communities today,” said Patty Robinson, faculty director of civic engagement and community engagement initiatives at the college and one of the event’s organizers. “We hope this conference helps raise awareness about this important issue, which exists in the Santa Clarita Valley.”
The conference provided attendees with the tools and resources to help victims of human trafficking and included panel discussions, break-out sessions and individual speakers.
It also included a keynote address from Tika Thornton, an advocate against sex trafficking and a sex trafficking survivor who provides one-on-one peer counseling to at-risk youth and offers jobs skills and resources to sex trafficking survivors.
“When you see a human trafficking survivor they don’t need your sympathy, they need empathy,” Thornton said. “I need you to have empathy so you can learn so you can provide that hope.”
Thornton’s address focused on this element of empathy as she described ways to connect with at-risk youth and human trafficking survivors using what she calls “the anti-venom approach.”
Much like the anti-venom to a poisonous snakebite, Thornton said that service providers should find someone who connects to children culturally, socioeconomically or through life experiences. This will help the individual heal and thrive long-term, according to Thornton.
“The venom is the negatively going through the child’s life,” she said. “But the anti-venom is me. I have been through negative experiences and I have been changed, the same thing with the anti-venom.”
Thornton said her own experience and upbringing in the jungles of South Central Los Angeles allow her to identify with teenagers, break down their guards and mentor them throughout their lives.
“I identify with them, they identify with me and then I can help then,” she said. “I tell them ‘I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. There’s nothing you can tell me about what you have been through that I have not been through.'”
This lesson of empathy is something she hoped others at the conference would implement in their own lives.
“There are too many one-sided outlooks going on in this world, there’s too much hate in the world right now,” Thornton said. “If we accept who this person is and at least understand their views, that’s all we need to do. We don’t need to choose sides.”
Through her own understanding and openness, Thornton herself was able to find her purpose and change her outlook.
“I always tell people that I found my purpose through my pain,” Thorton said. “I had this idea of everything I wanted to be and I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I started mentoring, until I started really to understand what happened to me and how I am able to help, that gave me purpose in my life.”
In her closing statements, Thornton encouraged the audience to seek help if they needed it and to offer hugs and smiles to those who are survivors of human trafficking.
“For all of us that have been through, we don’t let the word victim or survivor define us because when you think of the word survivor you always think of the victimization they encountered in their lives,” Thornton said. “We are warriors.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_