“Human trafficking is a problem that affects our entire community. I am inspired by the tireless work of these organizations that provide critical support to victims, there is strength in numbers.” said Ashley Swearengin, former Mayor of Fresno as well as President and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation.
On Thursday, January 11th, also known as National Human Trafficking Day, the event “Stop Traffic to Stop Trafficking” was held to gain awareness to the plight that is human trafficking, as well as to raise funds to help stop it.
The event was held by The Pledge To Stop Trafficking, a coalition of seven local nonprofits that provide services to and support for victims of sex trafficking including: Beauty For Ashes, Breaking the Chains, Fresno Police Chaplaincy, Central Valley Justice Coalition, Mollie’s House, Made for Them, Youth for Christ, Fresno Rescue Mission and Live Again Fresno.
This event was fueled by organizers and local officials, but also members of the community that believe in helping in the fight against human trafficking. Many showed up prepared with signs and buckets for donations. The southeastern corner of Blackstone and Shaw displayed a spectacle of volunteers raising awareness for the inhumane reality that is human trafficking.
Out of the many on the street, Karina Ventura volunteer and representative from Made For Them said her support came from her personal desire to bring more awareness to human trafficking in Fresno.
‘‘I think it’s unfair for people to be treated the way they are and I am here to help those people because they deserve to live a better life,” Ventura said.
Ashley Swearengin was present on behalf of the central valley community foundation. She announced donors of the foundation made a $10,000 dollar commitment to the pledge against human trafficking.
“Our goal is to see those dollars double in the community,” Swearengin said. “I feel like as a community we have an obligation to come together become a shield around them and stand up to these people who are perpetuating these violent acts against the youth.”
During the event people gave donations on the street or as they drove by. Donors can also make a tax deductible donation with the Central Valley Community Foundation.
Fresno County District Attorney, Lisa Smittcamp, said the event was not only to raise funds but to promote awareness that human trafficking happens in all communities.
“A lot of times people think Fresno is still a small town and it doesn’t happen here. It’s something that happens not just in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. It is very much a problem here,” said Smittcamp.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said law enforcement has made a commitment to stop human trafficking in the last eight years. The Fresno Economic Opportunities commission reported through 2010-2017 480 human trafficking victims were identified.
“Our role is the front line, we are the ones coming across these girls in the streets, we are the ones that can rescue them and develop the information to hold those accountable who are forcing them in this lifestyle.” said Dyer.
According to Dyer, the police department launches long term investigations to stop human trafficking as well as get victims the services they need through local organizations.
“The survivors of human trafficking are our inspiration. They are who the pledge to stop trafficking coalition is all about. There lives are testimony that change is possible that you can walk away from the violence in the past and they are our inspiration,” Swearengin said.
Any community members looking to support human trafficking awareness can participate and volunteer in quarterly meetings or events. Central Valley Against Human Trafficking is always accepting donations online.