Monday, August 11, 2014

Sex Trafficking: Raising Awareness to Protect Arizona’s Foster Youth

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, traffickers target children and youth with low self-esteem and minimal social support. The majority of individuals who are lured into sex trafficking have experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse in childhood, and are victims of domestic violence, neglect or abandonment. These traits are highly prevalent among young people who have run away from home, endured a life of poverty, experienced homelessness and/or additional adverse experiences.

As we work with foster youth and young adults across the state, the Independent Living Program has come to recognize the vulnerability of this population to being targeted for human trafficking. The vast majority of youth involved in the Independent Living Program have had one or more of the above factors greatly impact their lives.

Arizona’s Children Association’s Independent Living Program (ILP) provides young adults, ages 16-21, who are in or have been involved in foster care with opportunities to develop mastery in major life areas. This is done by teaching youth essential life skills, assisting the youth in learning self-advocacy, identifying mentors and natural supports, and working with the youth on concrete measurable goals.

The Independent Living Program is designed to aid youth in their transition into independence and assists them in gaining tools for self-sufficiency. ILP specializes in the various needs and opportunities for youth in foster care. Services include educational support, employment skills, financial literacy, food preparation, health & wellness, housing support, transportation support, leadership skills, participation in a Youth Advisory Board, mentorship, clinical support, and much more.

Is human trafficking a problem in Arizona? Trafficking for labor and/or services occurs, but sex trafficking definitely has the largest impact on children and youth in Arizona. According to Arizona State University’s School of Social Work Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, “Arizona has many factors that make it a profitable market for sex trafficking including 1) traffic corridors enabling easy, anonymous movement throughout the state and across state lines 2) a large resort community and mild climate that brings conferences and other tourist attractions year round.”

“One of the most important aspects of this issue is prevention through awareness,” said Brandy Verderosa, Independent Living Program Coordinator. “Many communities are still misinformed or under informed about human trafficking. I have heard many people say that this only happens in third-world countries and that it would never happen in the United States, let alone Arizona.”

In order to build awareness, the Independent Living Program will be holding a mandatory training for ILP staff on human trafficking. The training will assist staff in recognizing the signs of trafficking, provide guidance on how to properly intervene, as well as, introduce resources across the state that will provide prevention and aftercare services through connections made across the state with law enforcement. In seeking trainings and education, Arizona’s Children Association and the Independent Living Program will be able to provide resources that can be used to assist youth that are being targeted or trafficked and inform others.

“This training is a collaboration to bring people together to better understand how to combat this issue,” said Candy Espino, Vice President of Child Welfare. “Following the training, our staff will truly be able to better serve our clients, especially youth in transition.”

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