Modern slavery is a reality in Long Beach, according to the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force (LBHTTF).
This multidisciplinary, community-based group formed in 2012 and began holding monthly meetings to monitor and mobilize against sex, labor, and child trafficking.
At the beginning of 2014, the City Council allocated money to support the Long Beach Police Department’s creation of a more specific Human Sex Trafficking Task Force. This task force began work in February 2014. By September, according to an LBPD press release at the time, task force operations had led to 91 arrests, including for human trafficking, pimping and prostitution, and internet crimes against children. Also, 22 minors between the ages of 12 and 17 were rescued.
January is now recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. On Saturday, Jan. 26, LBHTTF will present its fourth annual Youth Empowerment Safety Symposium (YESS) at the Salvation Army, 3000 Long Beach Blvd. This free event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will include workshops and presentations to inform youngsters and their caregivers about existing dangers and how to avoid them.
LBHTTF member Virgina Zart said art displays and special performances will add an element of fun to the day, along with hamburgers and hot dogs, donated by the Long Beach Police Officers Association, and pizza provided by state Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell. Youth leadership groups will offer rallies and stage shows. Last year, 300 people attended the symposium and a similar number of visitors are expected this year.
“This event gives them a place to learn, have fun, and see how much support there is in our own community to help and empower them,” Zart said.
Local organizations like the Salvation Army, Gems Uncovered, Casa Youth Shelter and ESTHER Ministry of St. Joseph Church offer resources to support trafficking victims. Zart said these groups provide lodging, clothes, food, toiletries and activities for survivors as well as the individuals who come to the U.S. to testify in human trafficking cases. There will be a number of support booths at the symposium.
To highlight the importance of ethical labor practices, the YESS event also will have a Fair Trade Expo, featuring fair trade vendors with artisanal goods from around the world. According to Fair Trade Long Beach co-founder Teresa Baxter, fair trade practices ensure that workers are not “exploited through child, sweatshop, or forced labor of any kind.”
Baxter said the Youth Empowerment Safety Symposium is important because it helps raise awareness of “the continued predatory dangers of human traffickers that prey upon our children and anyone in our local and global community. Events like this empower and give a voice of bravery that embolden the educated out of becoming a victim of those circumstances.”