Human Trafficking Education Spread in Petaluma

Celeste Chavez and Grace Yarrow

   The public often remains ignorant of the severity of human trafficking that has caused many repercussions in both our nation and our community. It has become increasingly evident that the issue of trafficking is not only limited to just certain ghetto areas in big cities far from our own. The public’s naive perception of the severity of this issue has caused more organizations to increase awareness about the topic through public meetings, documentary screenings, informational panels, and implementation on school campuses. On Feb. 7, the Petaluma Police Department paired up with the Petaluma City School District and hosted a screening of the documentary “The Long Night,” filmed and directed by Tim Matsui. The film was followed by a panel of representatives from organizations Verity Health, Polly Klaas Foundation, Social Advocates for Youth, Crossing the Jordan, Mentor Me, Petaluma Police Department, and Petaluma City School District Guidance Counselors.

   Jennifer Parsons-Pritchard, a Volunteer Coordinator for the Petaluma Police Department, adds that the goal of the presentation is to inform the public about human trafficking and how they can become involved in preventing it.

   “Moreover we want to support teenagers avoid becoming human trafficking victims themselves. It is very important for people to understand that human trafficking can entrap students of all demographics, Socioeconomics, races, religions, genders, and ages. Social media sites allow traffickers to prey on students anywhere anytime,” said Parsons-Pritchard.

   Junior Yulissa Oceguera attended the presentation in the school library and shares something she learned during the presentation

      “I learned that 70% of immigrants are sex trafficked, and that stood out to me because a lot of my family are immigrants and sex trafficking is something that the immigrant community doesn’t really talk about at all,” said Oceguera.

   Members of the panel were equipped with enough information to answer questions from the audience about the prevalence of human trafficking, which demographic is typically targeted, and ways to become involved in solving the problem. The average age of a human trafficking victim is 14 or 15, most being female.

  “Students have the power to save another person’s life in reporting anything that they feel seems related to human trafficking and/or exploitation. It is always better to be wrong then not to have said something and find out later that someone is being victimized,” said Parsons-Pritchard on community action relating to human trafficking.

  Oceguera describes the impact the presentation had on her overall understanding of the topic.

  “A lot of my perceptions changed. I thought that you could stop at any time you wanted, but like we saw in the documentary, you really can’t. There’s also not enough support groups out there for the victims. I feel like if we had more resources it wouldn’t be as big of an issue,” said Oceguera.

     With the help of the panel, the documentary, and complimentary pamphlets, attendees were able to broaden their viewpoints and can continue to do so by looking out for potential signs of trafficking. By looking out for these, among other unusual behaviors, awareness of human trafficking can be spread throughout the community and help expand the understanding of this prominent issue within our streets, schools, and county.