As 2013 begins and abolitionists look forward to a New Year of continued progress on behalf of 27,000,000 victims of human trafficking worldwide, 2012 had its share of Bay Area highlights worthy of mention. But three in particular that stand out were memorable moments at special events.
1. Leah Albright-Byrd singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at the Prop 35 Victory Party on Nov. 6 in Oakland
The top abolition story for California in 2012 was definitely its voters approving Proposition 35: Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act by record numbers. No ballot proposition in California’s history garnered more support than Prop 35, which was a partnership campaign by attorney and philanthropist Chris Kelly’s Safer California Foundation and Daphne Phung’s California Against Slavery Organization.
10,078,476 (81.3% of total) voters sent a clear message to members of the state legislature that they are not acting quickly or aggressively enough in combating human trafficking in the state. At the Prop 35 Victory Party, Kelly pledged to make California senators and assembly members very aware about the will of the people when it comes to ending modern day slavery and protecting children from sexual predators.
Yet the highlight of the party was when Leah Albright-Byrd, Human Trafficking Survivor and founder director at Bridget's Dream sang “Great is thy Faithfulness” for the assembly of celebrants. Her moving and personal rendition prompted tears and reflection among the supporters striving so hard to end the sale, exploitation, and sexual abuse of children and adults in California.
2. Minh Dang’s Speech at Project Peace East Bay’s “The Slave Next Door--Making Justice Personal” Program on April 20 in Berkeley
Keynote speaker Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, acknowledged that Minh Dang, MSW/PHD student at UC Berkeley and child trafficking survivor, “stole the show” with her remarkable speech filled passion, power, vision, and expertise. He compared her to Harriet Tubman and other historic abolition heroes whose deliverance from slavery to activism were powerful catalysts to end injustice.
While the U.S. Government’s approach to combating human trafficking is the “3 P” strategy of prevention, prosecution, and protection—Dang proposed “preparation, partnership, and promise.” She emphasized the importance for law enforcement, service providers, and community organizations to be properly prepared to serve victims of trafficking.
And she promoted a grander vision of victim restoration that goes beyond a conviction of the perpetrator and providing victims with base level protection. Instead, her dream for victim restoration is to achieve success based on every survivor’s long term potential—one in which the goal is for them to thrive rather than survive.
Dang’s closing advice to the rapt audience was, “you must look inside yourself to find your personal experiences with dehumanization to develop the empathy that will sustain you to help victims and survivors.” To Dang, the work of restoration is more a matter of heart than policy.
3. Carissa Phelps’ Presentation at her Book Release Event on July 16 at Books Inc. in Berkeley
Trafficking survivor-advocate, attorney, M.B.A. graduate, mentor, and author Phelps gave a standing-room only assembly at Books Inc. in Berkeley much more than an introduction to her first book, “RUNAWAY GIRL: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time.”
Phelps’ delivered an expert, insightful, and comprehensive overview on preventing and ending commercial sexual exploitation of children. She asserted that everyone has role in protecting vulnerable and victimized children from sex traffickers. “You are the intervention,” she said, “You are the community.”
She continued, “With children, our first line of defense is to bring them into the community rather than excluding them from it.” She lauded innovative programs such as those from Girls For A Change that “empower youth to take ownership of the solution rather than paternalistic approaches that don’t work.”
The numbers of U.S. children being commercially sexually exploited that Phelps referred to are staggering: as many as 300,000 of them according to estimates cited by the F.B.I. The F.B.I. has also identified 13 U.S. metropolitan areas with a “high intensity” of children being sold for sex, one of them is the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont area.