APTOS—Ten years ago, former President Barack Obama made a Presidential Proclamation deeming January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, intending to raise awareness and equip people with the tools to recognize and combat the problem.

It was only 10 years prior to that, that human trafficking had officially been proclaimed a federal crime by the U.S. government.

“I don’t think many people know that,” said Delphine Burns, communications lead for Monarch Services. “Obviously it was happening long before 2000, and it’s mind-boggling to think that it hadn’t been recognized nationally until then.”

Human trafficking is a crime involving exploitation of individuals for the purpose of labor or commercial sex through force, fraud or coercion. According to the International Labor Organization, there are an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. About 25 percent are children and 75 percent identify as female.

Traffickers target all populations around the world—including on the Central Coast. A few years ago, a needs assessment conducted by three Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey county child welfare agencies identified 91 children and minor teens who were sex trafficked from 2015 to 2016, and that hundreds more were “at-risk.”

“People think of this issue as something far away from them, removed,” Burns said. “But it happens in all 50 states. It happens in big and small communities at alarming rates. It’s so important for people to understand that.”

Burns said that awareness of the issue has steadily gained momentum, but that there is still a long way to go. This is why Monarch Services is joining the Santa Cruz branch of the American Association of University Women and Soroptimist International of Capitola-by-the-Sea to host the “#End Human Trafficking Forum” Saturday at Twin Lakes Church.

The forum will include speeches by survivors, informational panels and open discussion. Organizers aim to provide insights into how survivors are impacted, as well as how allies can help with prevention.

“This is a great opportunity for people to learn more,” Burns said. “It’s really important that our community starts having a conversation about this issue.”

The “#End Human Trafficking Forum” will be held Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at Twin Lakes Church, 2701 Cabrillo College Drive, Aptos. It is free to the public. Light refreshments will be served and there will also be an art contest with cash prizes for local high school students.

“I think we can all help just by paying closer attention to marginalized communities,” Burns said. “We have to care for our youth, our immigrants… everyone who might be at risk. Just be a good ally.”

For information, to make tax-deductible donations or to enter the art contest contact the Santa Cruz AAUW at [email protected] or [email protected]

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