By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
SAN BERNADINO COUNTY, Calif., April 2, 2013 ― Building relationships with survivors, advocates, and other professionals across the country has greatly impacted my life. Not only have many of these individuals and organizations supported me in my personal growth, but they have also educated me in my advocacy. Even though I am a survivor of child sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC), I do not claim to know everything about these issues. Even as I write an academic book on these topics, I continue to learn different perspectives and ideas from others.
Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share with us their efforts and achievements. I encourage readers to reach out to these interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.
This week I’m excited to interview Anne-Michelle Ellis, Coordinator of the County of San Bernardino’s Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE).
What is your organization’s mission statement?
The San Bernardino County Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) is a partnership of public and private entities who have joined together to develop resources in the county to educate, prevent, intervene and treat victims of sexual exploitation.
What inspired the creation of your anti-human trafficking organization (or the anti-human trafficking program within your organization)?
CASE was formed in 2009 as an initiative by the District Attorney’s Office who saw the need to recognize children involved in commercial sexual exploitation as victims instead of criminals.
District Attorney, Michael Ramos and Fourth District County Supervisor, Gary Ovitt called upon leaders from child-serving County departments to enter into a collaborative effort to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in San Bernardino County.
In 2010, the Department of Behavioral Health secured funding through the California Mental Health Services Act making CASE an Innovations Project. These funds allowed a multi-disciplinary team to be formed consisting of staff from the Department of Behavioral Health, Probation, Children & Family Services, Public Defender and the Children’s Network.
The Coalition has grown considerably since 2009 and now includes the following nine County of San Bernardino departments as well as community organizations, service providers and the faith-based community:
- Behavioral Health
- Children & Family Services
- Children’s Network
- District Attorney
- Public Defender
- Public Health
- Sheriff’s Department
- Superintendent of Schools
If faith-based, please tell us how your faith has played a role in the success of your organization?
We are not a faith-based organization. However, out of the work of CASE has come the development of CADE (Christians Actively Demolishing Exploitation). We work closely with this coalition that addresses human trafficking in our area from a faith-based perspective.
For more information on CADE, you can contact Peggy Stapleton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Who are your board members and/or co-founders?
We do not have a board of directors. However, a Steering Committee was formed that consists of one representative from each of the nine County departments mentioned. This group meets on a monthly basis to oversee the partnership and to hear from the CASE Coordinator about program updates and make decisions regarding funding.
Are your efforts geared towards advocacy, prevention, education, awareness, victim services, legislation, etc.? Please describe. We are excited to learn more about you!
Because we are a County-based program, we typically don’t do much regarding legislation. However, the CASE Multi-Disciplinary team delivers direct services and advocacy to primarily system-involved youth who are victims and survivors of CSEC.
In addition, we have a community-based Outreach & Education Committee that meets on a monthly basis. Its membership includes people from various fields and group[s] including survivors, law enforcement, probation, social services, faith-based organizations, NGOs, community members, and educators.
Over the past two years, we have trained over 7,000 individuals in our County and throughout Southern California regarding CSEC issues. Each January, we host an anti-human trafficking awareness walk. This year, we also had a series of events in January during the week prior to our walk which included a candlelight vigil, the premier of our District Attorney’s Documentary, two film screenings and a special event with Carissa Phelps.
We continue to be the lead organization/partnership within the county designed to provide assistance and resources to those working with exploited children and their families.
Is your organization currently working on any project(s)?
Our District Attorney recently released a 45 minute documentary about sex trafficking in San Bernardino. We are currently working on hosting several screenings of the film throughout the County.
For more information on what the San Bernardino County District Attorney is doing, you can contact Christopher Lee, Public Affairs Officer at (909) 382-3665 or email@example.com.
Where are your headquarters based, and where are your efforts based?
We don’t have headquarters, per se, but we are primarily based in the City of San Bernardino. However, we cover the entire county of San Bernardino which is 22,000 square miles!
Please share any upcoming events or honors.
We offer monthly trainings through the Department of Behavioral Health. Upcoming dates can be seen at http://sbcase.eventbrite.com.
What has been the greatest achievement or most meaningful recognition or experience for your organization?
I believe the most meaningful accomplishment over the past two years has simply been the recognition from a County perspective that this is a real issue in our community. In addition, the willingness of so many government departments to come together in true partnership to address these issues is not only unique but highly encouraging. Of course, the work continues to be a learning experience and we are still in our infancy but I believe the progress we’ve made over the past two years is significant.
Where do you hope to see your organization in the future?
Because the funding for the Coalition is time limited and learning focused, my hope is that the value of the program will be recognized and that a more-permanent stream of funding is secured. Our funding will most likely end in June of 2014 so my hope is that the program can continue past that time.
In addition, I would like to see alternatives to incarceration developed. Currently, our County continues to charge teens with prostitution and lock them up in juvenile hall “for their own safety.” Of course, this is a hotly debated subject and I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, we want to make sure they are safe and don’t return to their trafficker, and on the other hand, locking a victim up with offenders sends the wrong message.
I would like to see appropriate, safe, secure housing developed in our area so young people have somewhere to go where they can receive services and are not treated as criminals.
What do you want the public to know about human trafficking, or specifically about your anti-human trafficking organization/program?
I’d like the public to know that this is an issue that affects all of our communities. It’s not just something that happens to “those” type of kids from “those” families or neighborhoods. It’s up to us as community members to educate ourselves on these topics and know who to contact if we suspect human trafficking. We cannot completely rely on law enforcement to “do something” about this issue, it’s up to us to take responsibility for our own communities.
It can be as simple as reaching out to young people and letting them know they are loved. What we hear from so many trafficking victims is that they were just looking for love and acceptance. If we can provide our youth with that love and acceptance, they won’t need to go looking for it [elsewhere].
I’d like to encourage people to get involved in youth-serving agencies and organizations in their community. Maybe it’s just a matter of donating a few hours of your time at your local runaway shelter, cooking a meal or teaching the youth a hobby or craft. It doesn’t have to be big but lots of “small” efforts make a big difference in the lives of our youth.
How can the public help you with your plight?
People interested in getting more involved in CASE can join our Outreach & Education Committee which meets the second Tuesday of each month at 2pm. For more information or to join our email list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for another interview coming soon.