By Christa Wiens and Ryan Townsend

Christa Wiens, education coordinator: “This Amber Heard chick is crazy.”

Those were the very first words in the very first reference I heard to the case which would become a cultural touchstone this month. At the time, I didn’t even recognize her name. Johnny Depp, on the other hand, has been familiar to me since “Benny and Joon” and “Edward Scissorhands,” movies from my youth.

I had no idea that he was suing his ex-wife for defamation, no idea about the piece she had written about surviving abuse.

Ryan Townsend, executive director: Recently, I was training a group of employees from the Fresno County Department of Social Services with our Understanding Human Trafficking course. Every class we always try and make the time as interactive as possible, on this particular day all anyone seemed to want to talk about was Depp V. Heard.

Christa: I immediately became interested in the case, as did many across the world. It wasn’t the drama that drew me in. I have neither the information nor the expertise to determine guilt or innocence in this case.

Ryan: Same. But when I heard about this I just knew that you would be a good person to ask about her thoughts on the case. It seems like there’s some significant overlap between our work at the Justice Coalition and the issue raised by this global conversation?

Christa: In my work as a prevention educator, I have heard more than enough stories of abuse/violence to know that anything is possible and anyone can be guilty. My interest in this case had little to do with Johnny or Amber, and much more to do with what was being exposed within the rest of us.

I decided to follow social media conversations, not to hear the latest updates, but to notice how our culture engaged with each other around this one prominent instance of domestic violence.

Spoiler warning! I think we have reasons to be concerned.

Ryan: One thing that occurred to me is that gossip/entertainment news, which is generally a place to escape for most that read it regularly, might have suddenly become a painful reminder of something traumatic for a whole group of people.

Christa: Survivors of human trafficking, like survivors of any forms of violence, are on the lookout for safe places. They are constantly trying to assess whether they will be believed if they tell what happened to them, whether the response to the incident will put them first, and whether it’s even worth it to disclose at all.

In many cases, victims do seek help, only to discover the person they thought would help them is looking to exploit them as well. It’s a difficult choice to leave one dangerous situation for another, and so survivors look for confirmation that they will be protected. They are watching you and me in this moment, and I’m afraid that what they are seeing will give them reason to remain quiet.

Ryan: It seems like the questions I keep getting asked are about the upending of some gender norms in this case and that most people are now believing Depp. Is that necessarily a bad thing?? I know that we are always working to educate people about male victims of human trafficking and all of the cultural barriers that prelude these cases from being reported.

Christa: While it’s true that we need to grow as a culture when it comes to male victims, I don’t think this is the way to do that. Try to look at it this way.

It’s easy to forget that the Depp v. Heard trial was not about abuse, but about defamation. The final outcome of this case sets a dangerous precedent that a survivor of abuse cannot speak about their experience, even without naming their abuser, for fear of being sued.

The new standard now suggests you can only speak about your situation publicly if you are confident you can prove it all in court, even if the abuse is in the past. But abuse so often occurs with no witnesses and little concrete evidence.

Abusers are very good at hiding their actions and manipulating their victims. Again, I do not know if Ms. Heard’s claims are true, nor if Mr. Depp’s are. What I do know is that other victims are watching. When we call a woman crazy when she tells about her abuse, they hear it. When the person with the most money, most notoriety, and most powerful friends wins, it confirms what their abuser has already told them about who will be believed. When a woman with more resources than most still has to explain to the public why her story doesn’t seem to add up, you might assume they will also not believe you. 

Ryan: This is kind of making my head hurt. How can we possibly navigate such a complex situation without making light of someone else’s trauma??!

Christa: We have so much to learn still, and there are certainly nuanced conversations to have about the issues this trial has brought to the forefront. People are complex. Situations are rarely simple.

If we care at all about victims of abuse, we should assume that survivors are watching how we engage these issues as a culture. When we lean into curiosity and express an understanding of the many factors at play in situations of abuse and exploitation, we just may find that we create the smallest bit of trust for someone who needs safety. 

Ryan: Seems like just a little more trust could make a whole lot of difference. Thanks Christa!

Do you know what my job looks as the Program Manager for the Justice Coalition?

What it can look like:

– Training groups in education and prevention

– Social media content creation

– Direct services for youth who are at-risk for exploitation

– Accompanying a minor in court when facing the offender- Successfully practicing harm reduction methods

– Specialized safety plans

– Participating in specialized courts

Can it be hard to see some of the kiddos we work with take off from placement?

Absolutely, it can.

Some days it feels like we are not doing enough … however just as the rays of sunlight peek through a cloudy day … I am blessed to see those rays …

Like a youth wanting to reconnect immediately after being on the run for 4 months, or another youth wanting to still connect after family reunification has been successful.

I love my job

I am thankful for the community partners

I am thankful for the kiddos in my community I get to serve


#education #Prevention

Joined by survivors, including our own Arien Garcia, as well as Fresno’s mayor and police chief, Assemblymember Jim Patterson announced the passage of a bill that would allow human trafficking survivors to have their records cleared of non-violent crimes within a reasonable amount of time after escaping the life.

At the Justice Coalition, we sincerely believe that legislation like CA Assembly Bill 262 represents a step in the right direction for survivors of human trafficking who have been coerced into committing crimes by those who enslaved and exploited them. We are grateful that Governor Newsom signed this bill into law and are so proud to stand beside Arien Pauls Garcia as she tirelessly advocates for change. Not only does Arien use her voice publicly but she also privately has helped dozens of pre-victim adolescent clients this year alone through our youth prevention programming.

Read more about the process of getting AB 262 passed and signed into law:

KMJ story from Reporter Liz Kern

Fresno Bee article by Melissa Montalvo

thank-you-very-much-paint-designsWe are STOKED to announce our grand total. As of today, we have raised $10,317* towards the Freedom Fund!

(*Disclaimer, our staff is still checking on what may be additional donations. So the grand total may be a bit more! Also, did you know it’s actually #Giving Tuesday today? If you haven’t given, know we met our matching grant goal but have quite a lot of fund raising left to do for 2016. Get your donation in before the year ends by giving today or ANYTIME!)

With the matching funds, that amounts to $20,317 that will go directly to taking on human trafficking head on! We can’t thank you enough for your gifts, prayers and partnerships. When you invest in CVJC by giving financially, here’s just a short list of things that we see happen in very real ways:

  • God’s faithfulness and provision is celebrated! We step out in faith when we make these goals, and God keeps showing up!
  • Our leadership team and partners are encouraged and inspired, knowing we have people believing in us and this work enough to give precious resources towards preventing human trafficking helps to fuel our efforts year round!
  • Victims, survivors and advocates hear loud and clear that THE CHURCH AND COMMUNITY BELIEVE ALL SHOULD BE FREE.