Tag Archives: Human Trafficking

Sex Work vs. Sexual Exploitation

What is Sex Work?

Sex work and human trafficking cannot and should not be conflated. Sex work can involve sex and physical touching, webcam or phone sex, dancing, and many other consensual, sexual activities. The line between sex work and sexual exploitation is that line we love to talk about: consent.

Sex work is agreed upon by all parties involved, and any party can revoke consent at any time. If either the sex worker or the client were to try something outside of what was agreed upon, that would be sexual violence; if coercion, force, intimidation, or threats are used in lieu of open and honest communication, that is sexual violence. No one is saying that no violence or exploitation happens to sex workers, only that sex work is not inherently any more exploitative of workers than any other industry.

Sexual Violence

Sex workers of all types can experience sexual violence, including rape, harassment, exploitation, and any other form of violence that a survivor who isn’t a sex worker may have experienced. Sex workers can be assaulted while on the job or moving about their daily lives, just like other workers. Sex workers deserve the same dignity and respect that all workers deserve, and that dignity entails seeing sex work as distinct from sexual exploitation in the same way that we see sex as distinct from rape.

All sex workers get into their work for a different reason. Some of them love the work. Some of them love their clients. For some of them, the ability to set their own schedule is key. Others may feel like it’s their only option – but many workers all over the world only work in a certain job because they feel like it is their only option, so why should we pity sex workers who aren’t in love with their job? For every sex worker, there are dozens of reasons why they may choose to remain in the industry. If we are truly against violence, we must respect sex workers’ autonomy and trust their abilities to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

Exploitation has no place in any industry. Sex workers are some of the fiercest advocates to end human trafficking and support survivors of sex and labor trafficking. Anti-trafficking advocates and victims’ rights groups need to trust and empower sex workers to recognize trafficking in their own communities and help us end sexual violence and exploitation across the globe. At Verity, we do not criminalize sex workers or take part in “operation” that law enforcement may do.

Law enforcement will call us after an “operation,” and we will go ensure that everyone involved has access to our resources and knows to contact us should they ever need us. Sex workers can and do get sexually assaulted. When it happens, it is not the punchline of a joke; sexual violence is perpetuated across industries. We can end sexual violence by working together to promote consent and eliminating exploitation.

Next Steps

If your group, organization, or company would like a presentation about human trafficking, labor trafficking, and/or sex trafficking, give our Human Trafficking Victim Advocate a call at (707) 545-7270 x 20.

If you think that you or someone you know has been exploited, call our hotline at (707) 545-7273 any time of day or night.

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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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January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month!

Human trafficking is a violent act against humanity. Traffickers and purchasers of those who are victimized lack a conscience, remorse, or respect for the women, men, children, and youth who are victimized by the atrocities that occur when one is trafficked.  Each day in our Sonoma County community more victims are held hostage and so we take this month of January to honor those survivors of these crimes against humanity that have been dealt them. We use this time to heighten our community’s awareness that Verity and many community partners are committed to ending this crime and to seeing that both traffickers and purchasers are held accountable for what they have done to those they have victimized.

This year Sonoma County’s Human Trafficking Task Force is hosting film events and having billboards placed in strategic parts of our county to both heighten awareness and to bring forth discussion as to how we, as a community, can put an end to this vicious crime and support those survivors to reclaim their lives in dignity and with respect.

Did you know?

Verity  advocates have some important information about trafficking in our county to share with you:

  • Verity worked with over 40 human trafficking victims last year by providing crisis intervention, food, shelter, transportation, referrals and much more.
  • The average age for a victim be forced into the sex industry in Sonoma County is estimated to be between 12-14 years.
  • Victims are usually targeted based on vulnerability. Homelessness, experience in foster care, previous experiences of sexual or domestic violence, and younger age all play a factor in a victim’s susceptibility to being trafficked.
  • Perpetrators or “buyers” come from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds. Our advocates have seen engineers, bankers, brew-masters, jewelers, attorneys, photographers, marijuana growers, laborers, and others. We’ve seen married men, fathers, single men, and a son-in-law gifting purchased sex to his father-in-law.


See all of our graphics here.


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Board of Supervisors Recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Sonoma Board of Supervisors Meeting

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Verity, county law enforcement agencies, and other community partners recognize Human Trafficking Awareness month.

At the January 13 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting, January 6 to February 12 was recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Sonoma County. The staff of Verity were there along with many other community agencies, including:

  • Santa Rosa Police Department
  • Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women
  • Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights
  • Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office
  • Sonoma County Human Resources
  • Sonoma County Health Services
  • Sonoma County Human Services
  • Sonoma County Probation Department
  • Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office

Verity’s Alli Brinkerhoff, Victim Advocate, addressed the Board meeting and shared her experiences working with victims of trafficking in Sonoma County.

> Click here to view the Human Trafficking Awareness Month gold resolution agenda item from the Board of Supervisors, which contains a wealth of information about human trafficking resources in Sonoma County.

> Click here to view a video recording of the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 13. The Human Trafficking Awareness Month portion of the video begins at 25:45.

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Buyer Beware

by Shared Hope International

Who are they … the men who buy trafficked children?

You might be surprised – the talented star athlete … the young man who packs your groceries … the father next door….

Whoever they are – wherever they live – you need to know.

Today, because of your support for Shared Hope International, it’s “buyer beware.”

Through our strategic efforts, empowered by the tremendous generosity of friends like you, we have launched a brand-new website, It:

  • Exposes convicted buyers of sex with minors, state by state – including yours!
  • Brings attention to the injustice that prevails when we fail to confront the real criminal.

America’s youth are at risk because of a simple economic principle – demand for sex acts with children drives the marketplace of exploitation. There must be consequences for the buyer!

It is essential to protecting our youth from becoming prey. It is essential to helping victims find real hope.

Click here to learn more about our nationwide campaign for justice and how you can help us:

  • Bring attention to demand as a result of the website campaign – and hold buyers accountable for their actions.
  • Continue our advocacy in Washington, D.C., pushing for justice and protection for our children.
  • Restore the shattered lives of victimized women and children, the very heart of Shared Hope.

Thank you. God bless you!

Linda Smith



Linda Smith

Founder and President of Shared Hope International

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2014 Human Trafficking Awareness Rally

Verity, along with the District Attorney’s Office, Crossing the Jordan, the Sonoma County Police Department, the Santa Rosa Police Department, the Petaluma Police Department, S.A.Y, Redwood Children’s Center, Homeland Security and the other partners of the Sonoma County Human Task Force joined together on January 15 for the 2014 Human Trafficking Awareness Rally in downtown Santa Rosa.

Speakers for the event included:

  • Jill Ravitch, District Attorney of Sonoma County
  • Shirley Zane, 3rd District Sonoma County Supervisor
  • Chris Mahurin, Detective, Santa Rosa Police Department
  • Mechelle Buchignani, Detective, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office
  • Alli Brinkerhoff, Sexual Assault Victim Advocate, Verity
  • Dana Bryant, Executive Director of Crossing the Jordan

Human Trafficking Awareness Rally5sm

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January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Human Trafficking Awareness Month Schedule of Events

Proclamations/Gold Resolutions

Board of Supervisors Gold Resolution
Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 575 Administration Drive, Room 105A, Santa Rosa.

City of Santa Rosa Proclamation
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 4:00 p.m.
City Hall, 100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa

Sign Making for Rally –  Monday, January 13, 2014 at 3:00 p.m

Sign making will at the Crossing the Jordan’s Facility, located at 2150 Bluebell Dr., Santa Rosa.  All volunteers welcome! If you have high school students, youth organizations, etc. that might be interested, we can create a flyer notifying them of the events that they are welcome to attend and help out!

Supplies Needed for posters & signs: 
Poster boards, Paints, Paint brushes, Pens/markers, Glitter & Glue

Rally in Old Courthouse Square – Wednesday, January 15, 2014

10:00 a.m. – Set up begins
11:00 a.m. – Rally begins
1:00 p.m. – Rally ends / Clean up begins

Speakers will be:
Chris Mahurin, SRPD
Alli Brinkerhoff, Verity
Dana Bryant, Crossing the Jordan
Mechelle Buchignani, Sonoma County Sheriffs Dept.
Jill Ravitch, District Attorney

Volunteers Shifts Available for Rally
Set up (from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.) – 10 Volunteers
During to hand out ribbons & flyers (10:40 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.) – 12 Volunteers
Clean up (1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.) – 15 Volunteers

Volunteer Contact Info: 
Karen Mahoney Schefer
Legal Secretary, DVSA
Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office
Phone: 707.565.3286 / Fax: 707.565.2354

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Not Forgotten Ball

Not Forgotten

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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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