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

Many of us are looking to earn some money over the summer, so it’s important to know your rights. Flip through to learn more and message us on Instagram if you have questions!

Common scenarios for labor trafficking include traveling sales crews and peddling operations. In traveling sales crews, young people are recruited to move from city to city selling cheap goods, such as candy, magazines, or other trinkets for little or no pay.7 In peddling operations, they are required to solicit “charitable” donations on the street or in shopping centers.8 Another common form of forced labor involves coerced drug dealing; of 641 homeless youth interviewed for a large 2016 study, 7% said they had been forced to sell drugs, often for gangs. These reports constituted 81% of all instances of forced labor that youth in the study said they experienced.

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.