YESS 2015: A Grassroots Effort Aimed to Educate on How to Keep Youth Safe from Human Trafficking

YESS 2015: A Grassroots Effort Aimed to Educate on How to Keep Youth Safe from Human Trafficking

It was a year in the making and by the end of January 2015 the inaugural Youth Exploitation and Safety Symposium (YESS) had more than 400 participants signed up to take part in a full day of educational workshops; motivational keynote speeches; and get the opportunity to ask some very tough questions about the very sensitive subject of human trafficking or sex trafficking in the United States.

Crittenton Services for Children and Families (CSCF) is proud to have helped out on the YESS 2015 initiative as an event chair, an event, that helped present the topic of human trafficking in a way that an audience made up of local community leaders, parents, and school-aged children from Long Beach, Calif. were able to easily process and that helped kick start a healthy discussion about the reality of this ever present issue in the state of California.

“The sad reality is that any child can be at risk for the kind of predator that the world of human trafficking produces, and parents need to be aware that this is happening in their own backyards,” said Martha Jasso, Director of Communications, CSCF, in a recent interview with Long Beach’s Grunion Gazette, “I know this issue can be difficult to talk about with children, but we owe it to them to have these conversations early in their life to keep them safe. It makes a world of difference to how a child protects themselves if they ever get into a situation where they are being lured and recruited.”

With the ever-present focus from the national media, film documentaries and community organizations on the topic of what child welfare advocates term either domestic minor sex trafficking or commercially sexually exploited children the awareness factor is definitely growing in the United States. No longer is this issue just seen as quote a “developing world” problem, or something that happens just in “immigrant communities” from metropolitan areas. Sadly, this issue has always been a reality affecting America’s child welfare system we just never classified it as child sex trafficking or human trafficking until recently.

Awareness of the dangers of the recruitment of American children and youth into a life of exploitation, in particular those without strong family connections, is still a pressing issue and something communities need to work on proactively.

“The issue of human trafficking should be an ongoing child safety topic between educators, parents and students. With the right knowledge ahead of time, our children can be equipped to avoid danger, report others who are engaging in unsafe activities or find resources if they get into a bad situation or know of someone who needs help,” said Jasso.

The idea for the YESS initiative is a collaborative effort of the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force (LBHTTF); the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD); and the Long Beach PTA.

Even though the YESS event was a one-day effort the reality of this partnership is that it is an ongoing collaboration that will continue to promote the idea of prevention through a grassroots educational initiative.

“Crittenton Services couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this grassroots effort as a way to help keep our community’s children stay safe. Much credit has to be given to the member agencies of the Long Beach Trafficking Task Force and the Long Beach Unified School District for being able to reach common ground, and to work together to provide this educational opportunity for all families who have children enrolled within the schools of the Long Beach Unified School District,” said Jasso.

Traditionally, school districts across the country have been timid about discussing human trafficking or sex trafficking on school grounds. They must take great care to have these kinds of conversations, as some parents may not be ready to have their children learn of this social issue.

But, to have the second largest school district in the state of California come to terms with the need for this type of parent and student safety training opportunity, and then prioritize resources (including school grounds) and manpower and find a way to present the topic in a age appropriate manner (children had different workshops than parents or adults) is something that LBUSD, the LBUSD School Board, and the Long Beach PTA must be commended on. Through their leadership, LBUSD is paving the way for other school districts to follow suit.

As the partnership grows stronger between the member agencies of the LBTTF and the LBUSD smaller scale human trafficking training sessions will continue to take place as requested. But there is talk of another YESS style event for January 2016.

No word on who will be designated as hosts and when exactly the symposium will take place, but when YESS 2016 does happen Crittenton will be in support of any effort aimed to keep our community happy, healthy and safe.

If you are interested in helping Crittenton Services in our mission of providing mental health services, shelter and transitional youth services to teenage girls who have gone through a human trafficking situation feel free to reach out to us.

We are currently holding a local fundraiser called Mystery Night where all proceeds goes directly to Crittenton’s InSight Program. One of our specialty programs that has garnered positive support in relation to helping young survivors of sex trafficking cope and transition out of a life of exploitation.

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