The College of Health Sciences and Human Services at California State University, Monterey Bay held an event on Feb. 11 focusing on human trafficking across our nation. Speakers Sharon Cooper and Lisa C. Williams captivated the audience of future social workers, clinicians, therapists and community members with strategies to help combat human trafficking, sexual exploitation and productive measures for helping victims recover.
Cooper, a developmental and forensic pediatrician, testifies in courts to help prosecute child abuse offenders and works to help kids receive the necessary treatment to heal from the tramua. Cooper works closely with the F.B.I. and currently holds faculty positions at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland.
During her speech, Cooper explained that abuse against children is no longer called child pornography as that would indicate a willing, volunteering participant. Instead, the appropriate terminology is now classified as child sex abuse material.
A previously popular website called backpage.com was responsible for selling numerous children into the trafficking industry, and that many families are guilty of being the most common source to sell their children. Cooper explained that being subjected into human trafficking can cause victims to experience complex PTSD, which can create a dissociative personality disorder.
The abuse of children causes three major impacts according to Cooper: physical, emotional and spiritual. With physical impact, children are easily susceptible to immune and medical disorders. Emotionally impacted children can experience depression, substance abuse, relationship issues and revictimization. Spiritual impact can hinders one’s faith, creating a sense of hopelessness. Cooper’s work focuses on disrupted neurodevelopment.
When it comes to finding victims for human trafficking, the majority are women and girls from America. Alaska natives are prime targets for human trafficking due to the pipeline. Thirty-one percent of girls and 7 percent of boys are sexually abused in the juvenile system, according to Cooper. Additionally, 50 percent of African American minors and 25 percent of Latino youth in New York City are exposed to trafficking.
Williams – an entrepreneur, philanthropist and author – focused on the problematic issues seen within our justice system from social workers and counselors forcing victims to repeatedly relive their trauma. She said the most productive approach to helping victims is asking them what they need and what can you do to help.
Williams’ journey into fighting human trafficking jumpstarted when she saw an article in Georgia referring to a 10-year-old girl incarcerated for prostitution. Williams advocates no minor can be a willing participant and that raping women is not having sex with them. What that 10-year-old girl experienced was the repercussions of human trafficking and she took legal action to fix our society’s issue of blaming victims opposed to prosecuting the offenders.
Most victims want the truth and a person to faithfully trust in, according to Williams. Once the trust is broken, victims are more likely than not to run away. She noted that running away usually happens when victims are running from something, not running to something. To personally help combat human trafficking, Williams bought a 7-acre farm in Georgia back in 2007 after learning there was only one house to help victims west of the Mississippi. Her program, Living Water for Girls, helps prostituted girls redeem a chance of normality.
Both Cooper and Williams expressed concerns with social deterrence. Health professionals across the nation fall short of protecting young girls by ignoring tell-tale signs of abuse. African American girls are 20 times more likely to be charged with a crime than other nationalities. Los Angeles County’s population consists of 9 percent of African American girls, yet they make up 92 percent of the juvenile system. Georgetown Law Center published a study, Girlhood Interrupted, focusing on adultification bias of young African American women. Adultification bias highlights young African American girls are held to a higher standard, and are seen less innocent and more adult-like than white peers.
There are 150 million pictures on the internet revolving around human trafficking, 10 percent of the pictures are of infants. The work that Cooper and Williams do is crucial to reforming our justice system, expanding the public’s knowledge of human trafficking and being proactive in stoping exploitation. The power duo will continue to fight the epidemic plaguing our nation. In fall of 2020, their book “Uncomfortable Truth” will be published and is a necessary insight to readers everywhere to stay informed on resolving human trafficking.
The Diversity Learning Series will continue on March 11 with “Unveiling the Joke: Theatrical Practices and Dialogue for Social Change” from noon to 2 at the Otter Cross Cultural Center.