OCDE, in partnership with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force and Vanguard University, hosted a Human Trafficking Summit for nearly 200 educators and school-based professionals on Jan. 29 at the department’s headquarters in Costa Mesa.
The summit’s objective was to teach those working at the frontlines of education about human trafficking, how to identify it and how to report suspicious activities. Experts say that could be the difference in saving a life.
“More than 440 victims of human trafficking, including children, have been identified in Orange County due to proactive investigations and community referrals,” said Lita Mercado, program director for Community Service Programs. “Our hope in exploring schools’ roles in providing an environment for healthy relationships and youth safety is that we will create a culture of proactive prevention and early intervention for at-risk children and youth targeted by trafficking recruiters.”
The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, or OCHTTF, is administered by nonprofit Community Service Programs and represents a collaboration of law enforcement, victim service providers, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and faith-based organizations. The task force has reached out to educators and other professionals working on site at Orange County schools to involve them in the enormous task of disrupting the labor and sex slavery trade, usually hidden far from the public.
In addition to Mercado, speakers at the summit included Jenee’ Littrell, director of guidance and wellness for the Grossmont Union High School District; Dr. Sandra Morgan, director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice; Sgt. Juan Reveles of the Anaheim Police Department; Orange County Deputy District Attorneys Bradley Schoenleben and Daniel Varon; and human trafficking survivors Rachel Thomas and Oree.
In addition to sharing stories of Orange County cases involving minors, organizers demonstrated the OCHTTF victim-centered approach of working with victims and criminal prosecution, and addressed the effects of violent crimes, such as human trafficking on youth psychological development and behavior.
The summit also covered changes in national and state law regarding human trafficking, the signs of labor and sex trafficking and how to report crimes against children, how technology has changed the nature of human trafficking crimes, strategies for prevention and early intervention of at-risk children and youth targeted by trafficking recruiters and the school’s role in providing an environment for healthy relationships and youth safety.
Attendees included school/district administrators, mental health professionals, student services directors, school resource officers, prevention coordinators, homeless liaisons, counselors, teachers and nurses.
The Orange County Register has more on the summit here.