It’s a simple action with a big impact.
One picture, placed on a board with dozens of others.
They’re faces of those standing together against human trafficking in the valley.
“It’s a way for us to, to inspire individual advocates and activists so they feel like they’re not alone,” Central Valley Justice Coalition Executive Director Ryan Townsend said.
Townsend’s group is just one of many advocates at this year’s “Conference Against Human Trafficking.”
“People from law enforcement, from probation,” Melissa Gomez with the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission said. “Faith-based groups, really everyone kind of coming together.”
Gomez is with the Central Valley Against Human Trafficking project, which organizes the event.
She says the last five years, the project’s discovered more than 250 valley victims. Those are mostly women. The victims range from age 12 to 56.
But it’s not just sex trafficking.
Gomez says, there were 20 labor-trafficking cases the past year alone. That’s a forced service, done for a profit.
“Is there someone possibly in this restaurant that’s serving me that could be a victim of trafficking,” Gomez said.
Even last month, three local men were arrested and charged with allegedly trafficking three minors in Orange County.
Fresno District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp says, the biggest challenge, is getting victims to come forward.
“To come out and expose what’s happening to them so we can help them, and the prosecution then of the perpetrators becomes really the icing on the cake,” Smittcamp said.
Now, almost 400 from the valley, including this news-team, have pledged their support in the fight for freedom.
Reporting in Fresno, Megan Rupe.
To reach the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, call: 1.888.373.7888
For more on human trafficking, visit: http://www.fresnoeoc.org/cvaht