Helping to heal victims in the Valley
BY ANGELINA MARTIN
Across the nation, thousands of victims fall prey to the human trafficking industry every day. The epidemic is occurring here in the Central Valley as well, and Without Permission of Modesto has made it their mission to help as many affected individuals as they can.
Without Permission is a faith-based, nonprofit organization which responds to sex trafficking in local communities, working in the areas of prevention, justice and restoration for victims. Sex trafficking, often seen as a modern form of slavery, uses violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Since 2012, Without Permission has trained 46,000 people about trafficking in San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties, working with local task forces to serve 254 survivors and their families to date.
Vulnerable populations are frequently targeted by traffickers, such as runaway and homeless youth, as well as victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Victims may become romantically involved with someone who forces them into prostitution or are lured in with false promises of a job, and many victims can remain in the same trafficking situation for years.
“Victims are targeted,” said Without Permission CEO Debbie Johnson. “They are identified by a ‘vulnerability’ that the trafficker has learned of through relationship building. When a victim is freed from the predator, they have a long road to recovery.”
Without Permission serves as a bridge from trafficking to healing for many victims, 78 percent of which call San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties home. According to Johnson, there are six cornerstones of restoration that the organization helps victims navigate: shelter, criminal justice, education, health, personal care and faith.
“We’re trying to bring home the picture that these are our kids going to our schools,” said Johnson. “They are our nieces, our nephews, and we know they’re being sold and purchased in our communities.”
Community volunteers at Without Permission work to restore the whole person that has victimized by sex trafficking. The organization partners with various known and revered locations throughout the country which specialize in short or long term placement for survivors, and works closely with law enforcement, Stanislaus Family Justice Center and the survivor to ensure proper justice and safety concerns are being taken.
“We don’t do direct services, but we’ve spent the last six years building relationships so we can walk with the victim through each step,” said Johnson. “For example, we don’t issues restraining orders, but we know people who do.”
Volunteers are with the victim throughout the duration of their recovery, whether it’s attending trial for the trafficker or sitting with the victim’s family and helping them to understand what has happened to their child.
“The betrayal, shame, violence, brainwashing and bonding all need addressing and most always, some professional care is required,” said Johnson. “We are present to navigate survivors and their families through this restoration.”
Without Permission also uses the relationships they’ve built throughout the years to help victims complete schooling, and assists victims through any physical or mental health needs they may have. Personal care items are provided to each victim, and the organization uses faith to help aid the restoration process if desired, too.
“It’s not a straight line,” said Johnson. “It’s one case at a time, one family at a time. We treat every victim like it’s our first case.”
Since 2012, 43 percent of victims that Without Permission has served have been 17 years old or younger, and the organization’s youngest victim to date was just 12 years old. Though seeing such young victims come through Without Permission’s doors is hard, said Johnson, her faith keeps her coming to work each day, eager to make a difference in victims’ lives.
“We promote self care adamantly, and keep the staff healthy and in perspective. Otherwise, you become angry and bitter and become part of the problem,” she said. “This is just our role in the fight – for me, human trafficking is the end result of a nation, a community, a city that has turned its back on its children.”
To get involved in the fight against human trafficking, Johnson advises community members to first educate themselves on the national epidemic, then advocate, fund, legislate and restore around the crime of modern day slavery.
“Push back on the culture that lies to us and our children that sex is not a personal, deeply intimate act between two mature, committed adults,” said Johnson. “One of the biggest cultural lies is that purchasing a body for a sexual encounter is not abuse of that person. We all can get involved by asking ourselves, ‘What am I doing, what am I not doing, what do I need to start doing and what do I need to stop doing?’”
For more information, including how to take action against human trafficking or to donate to Without Permission, visit www.withoutpermission.org or call 209-622-0156. The Without Permission Support Line may be reached at 209-277-7758.