Anti-Trafficking Coalition at Berkeley holds conference on combating human trafficking

Maddie Fruman/Staff

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With about 60 people in attendance, the Anti-Trafficking Coalition at Berkeley held its biennial Freedom in Action Conference on March 1 to discuss how to combat human trafficking.

The coalition aims to raise awareness about human trafficking in the Berkeley community and invited T Ortiz, one of Time Magazine’s 2013 “30 Under 30” nominees, as a keynote speaker to discuss the issue of human trafficking. Ortiz, who was a victim of trafficking herself, said society needs to realize that victims do not need pity; instead, victims need to be supported in many ways.

Ortiz related the vulnerabilities of trafficking victims to the experiences of the people in the room.

“We all have been through some level of injustice, some level of oppression and some level of discrimination in our lives,” Ortiz said at the event.

Roxanne Alejandre, senior manager of human trafficking at the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and a UC Berkeley alumna, said many of the victims of trafficking are in the foster care system and being able to have a stable relationship with community organizations would be helpful.

There are many ways to help victims that do not directly relate to their experiences in human trafficking, Ortiz added. Victims need help with learning how to do their taxes, applying for jobs and doing mock interviews, among other things.

“We are talking about our girls,” Alejandre said at the event. “They are people too and they are not just defined by their trafficking experience.”

San Francisco became the first city to adopt the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1998 and has used that framework to guide it to develop a number of programs and tools intended to advance women’s human rights, according to the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women’s website.

The director of the department Emily Murase said, based on its statistics, the average age of a sex trafficking victim is about 15 years old. Alejandre added that of the 509 cases reported in San Francisco, 38% are under the age of 25 and 92% are female. She said, however, that statistics on human trafficking can be limited.

“It is difficult to get accurate statistics,” Alejandre said at the event. “There’s a distrust of law enforcement and reporting it, particularly now for people who are undocumented with everything that is going on.”

Alejandre noted that stigma is one reason why finding victims is difficult. There has been an increase of awareness recently, but 15 years ago that was not the case, according to Alejandre.

The department advises that if anyone suspects human trafficking, they should contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree at 233733.

Contact Tate Coan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tatecoan.