Redefine what we mean when we say “love”

Valentines Day has always been a trauma reminder for me, has always left me feeling cringy and gross inside and out.

As the use of “love” was a key factor in my trafficking situation and my relationship filled with domestic violence once out of the life, I came to hate anything associated with Valentines Day and love.
The birth of my daughter helped me redefine my idea of love but I still held onto that trauma.

February sticker of the month for http://patreon.com/justicecoalition

When I had the opportunity to create this design for the Coalitions Patreon sticker club, I had plenty of time to reflect and in that reflection I found healing.”
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Love is not a weapon.
Love does not equal oppression.
Love should not be used to silence.
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-Happy Valentines Day-
Love from, Arien.

With Representative Jim Costa in Washington DC

valentinesday #Redefinelove #love

4 HOURS AGO
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So thankful today for Ivy Huff our Board President! She’s the woman behind the scenes of everything we do. Take a moment and hear how Ivy came to the coalition as a volunteer and then, a board member, ultimately elected by her peers to the position of board president.

Ivy is a licensed therapist in her vocation and a committed pursuer of justice in her role with us. She is truly a blessing to work with and provides leadership for our whole organization.

Every January, people across the country commemorate National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Of course, for us, though every month we work tirelessly to prevent human trafficking and exploitation we welcome this opportunity to shine a light on the world’s second-largest criminal enterprise. On Tuesday of this week, we joined with city leaders and partner organizations from the Pledge 2 Stop Trafficking in raising funds. Check out KSEE 24’s coverage of P2ST and visit P2ST.org to learn more. Additionally, hear from Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama in this video, courtesy of GV Wire. 

Gary Haugen, founder of IJM, said it best. “Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery, but nothing will ever happen until we are.”

With that fact in mind, we are moving forward to make our crucial prevention education resources available to as many people as possible! This month we are making multiple classes available for free download, we have joined with partners in raising the profile of human trafficking victims and survivors in our city and we are gearing up for a busy/productive 2022.

By Ryan Townsend, executive director

This is the second installment in a blog series highlighting how important our annual Freedom Fund challenge grant is. Every donation provides direct funding to our programs and services. We need your help to fulfill our mission of preventing human trafficking and exploitation in the Central Valley and beyond!

(This OpEd was originally published in The Fresno Bee on Sept 28. 2021)

I applaud Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) and the California Legislature for passing Assembly Bill 262. The bill, signed into law late last week by Gov. Newsom, provides important relief for human trafficking survivors looking to have their nonviolent criminal records cleared so they can pursue employment without hindrance. This victory (the bill passed unopposed) represents the kind of broad bipartisan cooperation we need more of going forward as awareness increases.

71 percent of an estimated 40 million trafficking victims were women and girls.

International Labor Organization

In the recent Marvel Studios film “Black Widow,” Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone) said he abducted, abused and brainwashed young girls to achieve his villainous master plan because they are “the only natural resource the world has too much of.” Watching in the theater, I grimaced when he said this because as much as I love escapist summer movies, I also happen to know a number of women who suffered abduction, abuse and brainwashing. In the movie, Deykov’s traumatized victims participate in their own cathartic rescue as the villain pays the ultimate price for his crimes. In reality, though, happy endings are rare.

Globally, women and children represent a disproportionate number of the worldwide population of human trafficking victims. According to the best data available, from a landmark 2017 report by the International Labor Organization, 71 percent of an estimated 40 million trafficking victims were women and girls.

For the last six years, I’ve served as executive director for the Central Valley Justice Coalition, a Fresno-based community benefit organization that seeks to prevent human trafficking through education, partnership and outreach. While we are careful not to limit our efforts to any specific gender identity, we recognize that locally, our own young women are increasingly vulnerable to human traffickers and exploitation. I watched “Black Widow” twice and both times I left wanting to clarify to my own daughters how the human trafficking survivors I work on behalf of weren’t kidnapped by a Russian supervillain, but by ordinary people from our own community.

The human trafficking survivors I work on behalf of weren’t kidnapped by a Russian supervillain, but by ordinary people from our own community.

Ryan Townsend

Last year, human trafficking awareness efforts exploded across social media, even spilling out into real life protests. Unfortunately, the hashtag #SaveTheChildren brought with it a torrent of misinformation and fear-based fallacies. Outside Fresno City Hall, I stood up in front of an impassioned group of about 50 people and implored them to do careful research and not give credence to invented (and unhelpful) stories. The most common handwritten signs I saw involved conspiracy theories about elaborate sex trafficking rings. Most of these involve some version of a Dreykov, an evil genius directing thousands of followers ready to pounce on innocent, unsuspecting children.

My working theory is that human trafficking is such a heinous crime that people often need to believe it is the product of pure demonic evil rather than admit that our children are most vulnerable to exploitation from someone they already know. The Polaris Project, one of the most authoritative sources of information in the field, reported that “many survivors have been trafficked by romantic partners, including spouses, and by family members, including parents.”

The worst thing about our current climate of polarization over political, social and cultural issues is that it is difficult to get people from diverse worldviews to set aside ideological differences and work together. Here in the central San Joaquin Valley , 1,054 victims of human trafficking have been identified by Fresno EOC’s CVAHT project in the last 10 years. Over 91 percent of these victims were female, and nearly 30 percent were minors.

California’s AB 262 is an important step in the right direction, but it’s only one small part of ending slavery and exploitation. In the future, I hope we look back and see it as a turning point.

This is the first in a blog series highlighting how important our annual Freedom Fund challenge grant is. Every donation provides direct funding to our programs and services. We need your help to fulfill our mission of preventing human trafficking and exploitation in the Central Valley and beyond!

As I reflect on my first year with the Justice Coalition, I am filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude for the blessings that have been provided to me! While countless others, myself included, lost their jobs when a global pandemic hit, after just a few short months on unemployment, God presented me with an opportunity to apply for a position with the Central Valley Justice Coalition to fill the position of Program Manager.

As an advocate and lived-experience expert (who has volunteered countless hours over the last 9 years in this field) it was an actual dream come true to start this new job. It was also a little scary to take on the responsibility that comes with building a program from scratch, in the midst of a shutdown!

As most of you know, volunteering and being an employee are very different things, and so I began the process of trying to figure out how to do a job no one had ever done before with only faces on a screen to help guide me.\nStarting out was rocky at best. A lot of my early days were spent engaging in Zoom trainings and soaking in how the day-to-day operations worked. There were days where I felt I was not doing much to contribute and I struggled with self-doubt. However, thanks to constant reassurance from the rest of the team over time I began to find my own groove. Beginning with tasks like managing our social media content and assisting Christa in the development of S.E.E. helped build my confidence and I could see (pun intended) that I was helping to build the coalition at the same time!

Arien Garcia was instrumental in getting AB 262 passed and signed into law in 2021

The biggest turning point for me in this first year was when I received the first referral to work with youth identified by the Department of Social Services as being extremely at-risk for human trafficking. Now, a year into the work, we’ve had the opportunity to reach almost two dozen youth with direct services in addressing at-risk behaviors that could lead to exploitation. My role at the coalition, by God’s grace, has become a very impactful one. This first year was a year for expanding on, not only my own capacities but the capacity at which the Justice Coalition serves the community. Being in this position has been a dream-made reality and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years!

“Now, a year into the work, we’ve had the opportunity to reach almost two dozen youth with direct services…”

Arien garcia
Arien shares in this video, giving her perspective as a human trafficking survivor and professional educator in the field

We are excited to announce that Freedom Fund 21 is taking place from October 18 through November 17. Once again, we are partnering with True Organic Products Inc. This year, TRUE has given $25,000 in the form of a challenge grant, which means that every dollar up to $25,000 will be doubled!

From our humble beginnings as a small, all-volunteer prayer group, we have grown to an organization with multiple staff members. Since 2015, we have been able to educate well over 27,000 people in the Central Valley and beyond. Hundreds of people have banded together to give thousands of dollars to fund this vital human trafficking prevention work.

To date, our annual Freedom Fund has generated over $251,000 in donations and every dollar makes a significant impact in preventing slavery and exploitation.