Cal Poly Safer | Courtesy Photo

Cal Poly Safer is hosting the Human Trafficking on the Central Coast Panel from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. this Friday at the San Luis Obispo Library community room. The event is one of many that Safer has organized in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Although the events have covered a wide range of issues that relate to sexual assault, Safer student coordinators felt human trafficking is a prevalent issue on the Central Coast that not many people are aware of.

Journalism senior Kelly Jacobs, a student coordinator at Safer, came up with the idea of collaborating with nonprofit organizations in San Luis Obispo to host a human trafficking panel. Jacobs reached out to Central Coast Freedom Network, Stand Strong and RISE to raise awareness on this topic.

“We thought that we could amplify this issue in the community and educate a lot more people than just the students on campus because it is a pervasive issue, especially here in [San Luis Obispo],” Jacobs said.

The representatives of each organization came together to plan the event. Among the people putting on the event is Kelly Turner, the co-founder and executive director of Central Coast Freedom Network, a local nonprofit that works with survivors of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Turner will be a moderator for the event. She plans to give a five-minute-long educational introduction on human trafficking and will ask the panelists questions pertaining to the issue.

“I would say that in general, the questions are meant to create understanding of the dynamics of human trafficking,” Turner said. “Several of the questions are action-oriented, like, ‘How can people get involved in the legislation process?’ or ‘How can people support local survivors?’ and so I guess the goal would be for attendees to have an action item to walk away with.”

Turner and Jacobs, along with the representatives from the other participating organizations, elected qualified experts to make up the panel. They both said each panelist will bring different perspectives to the discussion, as they all fall under different categories of expertise.

“Each of them are very passionate and very compassionate people,” Turner said. “I’m very excited about working with them as individuals and professionals.”

The panelists

The panel chosen offers diverse insight on the issue of human trafficking, from legislative and law enforcement perspectives to the perspectives of survivors and allies.

The panelists speaking at the event are:

  • Brenda Trobaugh – University Police Department
  • Danielle Borrelli – California Cybersecurity Institute
  • Lee Cunningham – Former Assistant District Attorney
  • Beth Raub – Victim Witness
  • Antonia Winters – Stand Strong/Survivor

Each member of the panel is knowledgeable on the issue and has been proactive in raising awareness about human trafficking.

From survivor to ally

Panelist Antonia Winters, the director of Latina services at Stand Strong, is a survivor of human trafficking herself. Although her field of work primarily focuses on domestic violence, Antonia’s story serves as a source of hope and inspiration.

“Usually when people ask me why I do this kind of work and why this is my passion, I usually talk about my story and mention that I am a survivor,” Winters said. “It’s a big need in the community.”

Shortly after coming to the United States from Mexico about 20 years ago, Winters was abducted for human trafficking in Los Angeles, California. She was one of many young women who fall victim to trickery and manipulation.

According to Winters, human traffickers target young people — particularly young women  — and find different ways to engage them and to make them believe something that isn’t true. In Winter’s story, she fell into this trap after she was offered a job.

“The guy was very, very handsome. He looked like a business man and he had the nicest car,” Winters said. “Here I was, naive. Growing up in a broken home, I felt insecure about myself. They know how to get in your brain.”

It did not take Winters long to realize she was in a dangerous situation. She recalled being taken to a unit in Hollywood with other abducted women.

“They drug you. They lock you in a room for a long time as ways to convince you that you belong to them,” Winters said. “I saw the drugs, I saw the women getting drugged.”

Although she knew she would be risking her life, Winters knew she had to escape.

“I knew that the end of my story wasn’t going to be like that,” Winters said. “The only thing that would run through my mind was that I needed to escape.”

Winters said she had somewhat of an advantage in this situation, which ultimately helped her escape quickly.

“He told me he liked me a lot. I was in a privileged situation in the moment because he liked me,” Winters said. “When I made him believe that he could trust me, I went to the bathroom and then I left. I hid for a long time; I lost track of time.”

Although she escaped, Winters still carried the shame, guilt and loneliness that her human trafficking experience imprinted on her.

“I knew I was very broken. I had a lot of pain. I knew that I had all of these feeling[s] inside and I didn’t know how to find ways to look for help or to trust somebody,” Winters said.

Despite the hardship she went through, Winters knew she had to persevere and become an ally for other women.

“When I was young, I saw my mother get beat up. I told myself as a child, ‘When I grow up, I want to do something for women,’ and when all of these things happened to me, I knew. I was very connected to my feelings,” Winters said.

Shortly after escaping, Winters moved to Paso Robles and worked as a volunteer for women survivors of domestic abuse. There, she was exposed to stories similar to hers. Volunteering became her first step to healing.

“When I started working with the victims, I started pushing myself to be a living proof that you can change, that you can heal, that you can have a better life.”

Winters will continue to work with women to listen to their stories and to empower them.

“I am helping hundreds of women get out of that situation and to believe in themselves and start a new life,” Winters said. “I have no doubt that this is my calling.”

A call to action

Like Winters, Turner and Jacobs said they are hopeful that this event will help raise more awareness on this issue.

According to Jacobs, this event is a call to action for the community to make them aware of the prevalence of human trafficking in San Luis Obispo, recognizing certain signs that pertain to human trafficking and how to show support to survivors.

Turner said this issue is not as talked about as it should be and the community needs to know this issue is happening right where they live.

“I think that we don’t know how prevalent it is because we haven’t been asking that question long enough,” Turner said. “Our community’s consciousness with it is kind of where we were at with domestic violence about 20 years ago and so I think we have a long way to go.”

Turner believes that members of this community have a responsibility to inform themselves on these type of issues and hopes they feel empowered and encouraged to make a difference.

“If something doesn’t feel quite right, listen to that, look for the red flags and know that one anonymous report from an educated person can be the difference between someone being safe and free and living in slavery essentially,” Turner said.

Although the Human Trafficking on the Central Coast Panel serves as a call to action in San Luis Obispo, the ultimate goal for this event — along with other events focusing on the issue of sexual assault — is to stand as an ally for the survivors. Turner said she feels encouraged when she works alongside survivors, and admires their intelligence, strength and resilience.

“Working with survivors is getting to see the best in humanity,” Turner said.

For more resources on human trafficking, visit National Human Trafficking Hotline or find support by calling 1-888-737-7888.

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