As a young college student in Georgia, Rachel Thomas became the victim of a human trafficking scam when a pimp tricked her into believing that she could pursue a modeling career.
This quickly led her to working at strip clubs, dealing with threats against her and her family and forced sexual encounters.
CSULB hosted a human sex trafficking presentation, sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, on Wednesday evening in the University Student Union Beach Auditorium.
At the event, Thomas, one of the panelists and the co-founder of Sowers Education Group, shared her experience as a victim of sexual exploitation and stressed the importance of avoiding victim-blaming.
“We need to eradicate the word prostitute and instead use victim, because the women on the streets are victims of sexual exploitation,” Thomas said.
The discussion-based event stressed the importance of critical thinking and aimed to help safeguard against human trafficking. The panel encouraged finding ways to reduce trafficking in local communities through education.
“It highlights the importance of getting to college and high school students because these people prey on young women of any background,” Andreana Salazar, a junior anthropology major who attended the event, said. “A lot of this comes from college campuses and scams to make money.”
The event included a presentation on the sex trade and lectures from each of the three panelists, and ended with a Q-and-A session.
“Because we’re in a large port city near a border, we are impacted in certain ways, and as a campus community located in the city, we want to be aware of our community,” said Shira Tarrant, the associate Professor in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies department and emcee for the event.
“For students who are going into fields where they might want to intentionally focus on this area as a line of professional work or might run across these issues as future social workers… it is an opportunity to become familiar and to understand the problem more deeply,” Tarrant said.
During the event, Lt. Dan Pratt from the Long Beach Police Department’s Vice Investigations Unit explained that the Long Beach Police Department is taking a different approach to aiding victims of human trafficking. He said that the LBPD 2014 human trafficking results included 24 cases, 26 arrests, 29 minors rescued and 55 adult victims referred to services.
Pratt said that the department has adopted a policy towards focusing on the survivors of sexual exploitation that is free of victim-blaming.
“If we treat every girl like a victim, then we start to get somewhere…” Pratt said. “It [gets] them to start talking to us. Instead of us treating them as suspects, we [treat] them as the victims that they were.”