Verity in the News

In Light of Mother’s Day: Protecting Our Girls

The article below is a guest piece by Sonoma’s own Stephanie Hiller. It is intended for mothers who want to protect their daughters, but we think that all readers can gain some insight into sexual violence, human trafficking, and more. Read on:

Moms have always worried as their girls enter adolescence that they will be pressured into sex by a boyfriend – because, after all, “boys will be boys.”

But date rape, though common, is not the most violent form of sexual abuse faced by our girls.

Today new threats have left us floundering, pushing us into helplessness and the comforting arms of denial. But there is no safety in those quarters.

The use of the Internet to lure girls into compromising situations, or even into the sex trade, is one of the most insidious instruments of the global threat to young women and girls, and one of the hardest to combat. Says Caitlin Quinn of Verity, “As soon as the police or our advocates have figured out one new lure or app, these guys come up with another one.” And no, there is no place, to her knowledge, that keeps a running list of the latest social media trick. “Snapchat is an app that teens love to use. You can have your location ‘turned on,’ allowing your friends and contacts to see where you physically are, and if you have it set for “public,” then anyone can see where you are.”

Trafficking and the use of underage girls in online sexual videos is so creepy, such an ultimate and cruel violation, that we tend to think it happens to somebody else’s girls.

The image of black and brown girls as more lusty, or loose, persists, a racist projection that feeds our denial while covering up the reality with a slick patina of privilege. These things don’t happen to us.

But they do.

Girls with rough home lives, dysfunctional families, experienced in foster care, or who are otherwise vulnerable due to mental or physical disability, poverty or homelessness are most likely to be preyed upon by traffickers.

Meanwhile, all girls continue to be vulnerable to the many other forms of sexual violence.

Of girls who are trafficked, 86 percent were sexually abused previously, according to Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Bill Brockley, who serves on the Human Trafficking Task Force.

So what’s a poor mom to do?

Building a solid relationship with your daughters is the way to go, according to Verity’s Caitlin Quinn. “Mothers need to do everything they can to tell their daughters that they can talk to them.

“Sometimes that means mothers being vulnerable with their daughters. A lot of mothers don’t want to share what violence has happened to them but that can help daughters understand why their mother feels the way she does. You don’t want your daughters to think you are weak and something happened to you, but being vulnerable is not necessarily weak.”

Mothers can become familiar with warning signs that a girl is being trafficked, advised Quinn. “They know what she is normally like, and if they aren’t afraid to ask their kid. We’ve seen kids who are living at home and are being trafficked, and parents didn’t even know.”

Sometimes a girl may suddenly have more money to spend, but she doesn’t have a job or an allowance. That can be a red flag.

Every parent’s relationship with their child is different. Preventative work looks different for every mom. According to Quinn, for some people, it’s as straightforward as “setting healthy boundaries for your daughters with social media… if they want to have Facebook on their phone and on the go, you need to know their password. Knowing your mom can check what you’re doing is important. Also knowing who they can date, how late they can stay out.” The basics.

Has the #MeToo movement brought more awareness to the problem of sexual violence?

“It did initially. There was a lot more interest in volunteering, being on the Board. But there hasn’t been a huge uptick in clients.”

A roar has become a whisper. Or perhaps it has only gone underground.

Jan Blalock is the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. Asked whether girls are safer now, she said, “No, but it’s safer to talk about things.

“I think we’re in a very dangerous time right now,” citing the power of the Internet and easy access to porn, “especially for boys who may think this is normal or what girls want.”

Empowering girls helps. It’s important to let them know that sexual violence is not their fault. “The onus is on society to see girls and women as equal, intelligent beings worthy of respect rather than objectifying them,” Blalock said.

You can contact the author at Thanks for reading!

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Screening of “The Rape of Recy Taylor” in Sebastopol

The Rape of Recy Taylor

A Benefit for Verity
Thu, Mar 29 7pm

To Purchase Tickets Click HERE

Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old black mother and sharecropper, was gang-raped by six white boys in 1944 Alabama. Common in Jim Crow South, few women spoke up in fear for their lives. Not Recy Taylor, who bravely identified her rapists. The NAACP sent its chief rape investigator Rosa Parks, who rallied support and triggered an unprecedented outcry for justice.

Our film exposes a legacy of physical abuse of black women and reveals Rosa Parks’ intimate role in Recy Taylor’s story. An attempted rape against Parks was but one inspiration for her ongoing work to find justice for countless women like Taylor. The 1955 bus boycott was an end result, not a beginning.

More and more women are now speaking up after rape. Our film tells the story of black women who spoke up when danger was greatest; it was their noble efforts to take back their bodies that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and movements that followed. The 2017 Global March by Women is linked to their courage. From sexual aggression on ’40s southern streets to today’s college campuses and to the threatened right to choose, it is control of women’s bodies that powered the movement in Recy Taylor’s day and fuels our outrage today.

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Strong Survival: Student Documentary Film takes on Human Trafficking in Sonoma County

Santa Rosa, CA – March 5, 2018 – In August of 2016, Sonoma County Junior Human Rights Commissioner Shynie Lu began directing the documentary Strong Survival on human trafficking in Sonoma County. The 30-minute film documents local survivor and activist Maya Babow’s experiences from the ages of 12 to 18, exploring the psychological and physical harm human trafficking has on victims. Strong Survival also features interviews with law enforcement members of the Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force and sexual assault victims’ advocate organization Verity. The film seeks to spread awareness of human trafficking as a pervasive problem in our own community, and educate young people on ways to protect themselves from traffickers.

“We need to better educate ourselves, learn how traffickers work, and stop the demand. If you can stop the demand, there is no need for supply,” says Babow. She is committed to transforming the trauma of her experience into healing and advocacy, giving presentations at schools and community events and offering her contact info to any young person who seeks help or feels unsafe. Every year, thousands of young women, children, and young men become human trafficking victims. According to Verity, the average age of victims entering human trafficking in Sonoma County is 12 to 14. “The goal of the film is to raise awareness of this highly under-discussed issue,” says director Lu. “We wish to educate not only the adults but also children and teenagers so that they can learn to protect themselves and each other.”

In addition to the film, Human Trafficking Committee members Olivia Kulawiak, Casey Dai and Annapurna Johnson have developed an informative brochure on human trafficking statistics and warning signs, in partnership with sexual assault victims’ advocate organization Verity. It is being distributed to all Sonoma County middle and high schools. As human trafficking can be a sensitive topic to navigate for educators and administrators, the Committee is offering schools a screening and presentation with Maya Babow for students. They can also distribute the film’s website and brochures to parents who can use them in discussion with young people.

The Human Trafficking Committee has been promoting the film at universities, student organizations, and humanitarian organizations in hopes of bringing wider attention to the devastating effects of human trafficking. To date, it has received more than 2000 views and has been screened by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, the Marin County Office of Education, Northwestern University, Wake Forest University, University of Williams & Mary and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. To watch the film, please visit

The Junior Commission on Human Rights is a project of the Commission on Human Rights, an appointed advisory board to the County Board of Supervisors. The Junior Commission is intended to provide high school students with the opportunity to participate in advocacy, take an active role in the county government, provide education about human rights issues, and empower youth to make a positive impact on their communities.

For more information about the Junior Commission, visit the Commission on Human Rights website at or follow them on Facebook.

Download their materials here:

Human Trafficking Statistics

Film Promotional Poster

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Chris Castillo, Verity’s Executive Director, wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Chris Castillo, of Santa Rosa’s Verity, has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards. From Chris:

I want to thank you for this tremendous honor. And yet I want to say that yes I lead this organization but we would not be who or where we are without the tremendous current and past staff. So while I personally accept this honor, I do it on behalf of my Team Verity as well as all who have been victimized by rape and sexual violence. They truly are my heroes. Thank you from the depths of my heart.

Read more here.

Check out our pictures and video from the event on Facebook! Thank you for being a part of the Verity community, whether you’re a volunteer, donor, client, or friend of the agency — we couldn’t do it without you!
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Georgina Tello Bugarin recognized by Argus Courier

This week, Petaluma’s newspaper, the Argus Courier, highlighted the work of one of our advocates who works half-time out of the Petaluma Police Department. They love her, we love her, and her clients love her, so we are so glad her work is being recognized!

[Georgina Tello] Bugarin, who works full-time for the nonprofit Verity, which operates the county’s rape crisis center, spends 20 hours a week working from the police headquarters to help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Those cases are often difficult to navigate, entangled in complex webs of emotion and fear, Bugarin said. Though her work is a challenge, her reward comes from helping victims rediscover themselves outside of the violence that has shaped their lives.

“I’m very upset about the victims being mistreated,” said Bugarin, a 46-year-old Petaluma resident. “My main motivation is trying to give voice to those victims.”

Bugarin, a bilingual native of Guanajuato, Mexico, has worked with Petaluma police for nearly two years, though the advocate position has existed in the department since 1999. She works with an average of 22 clients each month, and is often called to the scene as officers respond to incidents, or is tasked with reaching out to victims after reports are filed.

She links victims to local resources, including shelters, clinics or counseling, and will attend court dates with victims and provide continued support. Some victims don’t return her calls or aren’t ready to move forward, Bugarin said, but she offers her services regardless.

“What I’m trying to do is tell them that I’m there for them to support whatever decision they’re going to make,” she said. “I provide information and resources and whatever they decide, I’m there for them.”

Petaluma was among the cities to recognize April 2017 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so we are thrilled that the awareness and attention is spreading across the county, thanks in large part to the work of Verity staff and our partner agencies! Read more here.

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SRJC’s First Annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”

Verity attended, initiated, or hosted 40 different events throughout April 2017 in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness month, and we wanted to highlight one of our favorites. This event brought together over 200 people to raise awareness among the young people who need preventative education the most, and we were honored to be invited and for our Coaching Boys Into Men facilitator, Zach, to be one of the featured speakers.

We love when Verity and our staff members make the news. The Press Democrat has some great coverage, photos, and videos of the Santa Rosa Junior College’s First Annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, which brought together students from Sonoma State, the Junior College, and community members from a variety of agencies together to raise awareness about sexual violence and the intersections of identity that affect sexual violence.

‘This is a real, direct, easy way for people to participate; just to really do a little thing to step out of your own perspective,’ said Zach Neeley, prevention educator for Verity, a sexual assault awareness advocacy group that has provided support to the JC’s effort to make violence awareness and prevention something more student-athletes talk about.

Read more from the Press Democrat here and check out pictures from the Santa Rosa Junior College. We also took some photos of our own, which you can see on our Instagram!



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Board President Cecile Focha is a Star!

We love when our all-stars are recognized for their invaluable contributions to the Sonoma County community. Cecile Focha, our President of our Board of Directors, was recently honored in this Star Seekers’ Facebook Post.

“Time for another fantastic unsung heroine, today honoring Cecile Focha! Cecile is a Sergeant with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Over a 20 year career as a deputy, she worked on the streets and in investigations. She was the first female Detective Sergeant in the history of the So Co Sheriff’s Office, where she supervised the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Detective Unit. Cecile was instrumental in establishing the Sonoma County Family Justice Center, and was the very first Press Information Officer for the agency responsible for all media relations. She is President of the Board of Directors for Verity ( the county’s only rape crisis center). In addition, she is the Northern Chapter Vice-President for PORAC, serves as a Roseland University Prep Mentor to a college-bound student, and a SRJC police academy instructor for Sex Crimes Investigation, Cultural Diversity, Racial Profiling, Hate Crimes, Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking and vehicle operations. If that wasn’t enough, she helped establish a teen driving program – SRJC Community Ed (Alive at 25) – which is a model program recognized at the state level for its effectiveness. Cecile supports the Russian River Fly Fishers, Events with Sole, Boy Scouts of America, Casting for Recovery (breast cancer group) as retreat volunteer and river guide, and is a Santa Rosa AAUW (American Association of University Women) member. As we pay attention to honor those who put their lives on the line for us, let’s take a moment to honor this heroine of Sonoma County. Thanks Cecile!!”


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Board of Directors President Cecile Focha Honored

Our own Board of Directors President, Cecile Focha, was honored by Congressman Mike Thompson as one of two Public Safety Heroes of the Year. We were excited to give the Congressman a tour of our facilities earlier this year, and we are so glad to see that he was impressed!

Congrats, Cecile, and thank you for all you do!

“Thompson said in a statement that Focha had demonstrated a “remarkable commitment to public service” over the last 18 years. A former spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, she was also its first female detective sergeant and she supervised the domestic violence and sexual assault detective unit. Thompson also said she has “played an instrumental role” in the Sonoma County Family Justice Center’s establishment and is president of the Board of Directors for Verity, the county’s only rape crisis center, among other accomplishments.”


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Billboards for Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Human Trafficking Billboard 2015


January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Sonoma County and across the United States. To help promote awareness in Sonoma County, Verity has joined with multiple Sonoma County agencies to post billboards in Santa Rosa, Cotati and Petaluma. These partners include:

  • Crossing the Jordan
  • Junior League of Napa-Sonoma
  • Petaluma Police Department
  • Polly Klaas Foundation
  • Social Advocates for Youth
  • Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office
  • Sonoma County Human Trafficking Taskforce
  • Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office
  • Soroptimist International of Santa Rosa
  • Santa Rosa Police Department

The billboards are located at:

  • North Side Sebastopol Rd, 500’ West of Boyd, Santa Rosa, West Facing (approx. 10 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa)
  • South Side College Ave, 600’ West of Maxwell, Santa Rosa, East Facing (approx. 340 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa)
  • East Side Redwood Hwy & Railroad, Cotati, South Facing (approx. 9170 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati)
  • West Side Hwy 101, 1000’ North of Gravenstein Hwy, Cotati, North Facing (approx. 7900 Redwood Drive, Cotati)
  • South Side Bodega Ave, 810’ West of Cleveland, Petaluma, East Facing (approx. 1510 Bodega Ave., Petaluma)
Billboard on Sebastopol Road

Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa

Billboard on West College Avenue

West College Avenue, Santa Rosa


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Learn about what's new at Verity, announcements from our partner organizations, and ideas to help you get involved in fighting sexual violence.
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