Throughout January, the Pittsburg Safehouse is taking part in the National Human Trafficking and Stalking Awareness Month by hosting events to educate the community about the risks of human trafficking and stalking.
Safehouse’s events are free and open to the public. The events include information such as how to recognize trafficking, how commonly it occurs, how to help victims, and the dynamics of both human trafficking and stalking.
“I think it’s important to raise awareness of things all year long, but the month gives us a good opportunity to talk to media, to talk to the community, to have events to help people pay more attention to these events,” said Ali Smith, prevention education specialist at Safehouse.
Safehouse hosts a “Lunch and Learn” once a month to educate members of the community on a variety of topics. This month, Safehouse is hosting two Lunch and Learns; one on Jan. 15 over human trafficking and one on Jan. 29 over stalking. Both events were held in the Pittsburg Fire Department and served as a chance for community members to learn about the prevalence, warning signs, and resources for victims of human trafficking or stalking.
“Homeless and runaway youth are very vulnerable to trafficking, and children and youth in general, although it does happen to adults as well. Most of the time it’s not what we picture or what we see in movies,” said Smith. “Similar to the myths of sexual assault where we think someone’s going to jump out from the bushes, that’s kind of what we think of when we think of human trafficking. You know, someone’s going to come through and get us in the Walmart parking lot, when really, there’s a lot of coercion, there’s a lot of manipulation and grooming that happens.”
The organization is hosting other events to raise awareness, including The Portrayal of Stalking in the Media: ‘Stalking for Love’ Trope event held on Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pittsburg Public Library. At this event, Safehouse will be educating those in attendance about how stalking behavior is viewed throughout popular culture.
“Watching someone sleeping, like Twilight, we see those things, and especially young people see those things, who don’t have maybe so much experience with dating or relationships, and they think this is how that’s supposed to be, like that’s normal,” Said Smith. “This has always been something I like to discuss, just how we normalize stalking behavior as well as sexual assault and domestic violence in the media we consume, which all upholds this rape culture that we live in and just reinforces that.”
Safehouse is also taking part in hosting “Breaking the Chains of Human Trafficking”, an event taking place on Jan. 31 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Overman Student Center. The event will allow community members to learn about human trafficking through informational tables and booths followed by a question and answer panel.
“Human trafficking is in two forms: sex trafficking, which is what a lot of people think of first, and then labor trafficking,” said Smith. “Both of those include the victim facing force, fraud, and coercion from the trafficker. So either they force them into sexual exploitive acts, commercial sex exploitation, or it’s some sort of labor.”
One thing that Safehouse wants to encourage is being aware of what qualifies as stalking and human trafficking.
“I think when most people think of stalking, they think of someone physically following you wherever you go, and that does happen,” said Smith, “but more of what we see is different relationship dynamics in abusive relationships such as having someone text you every hour or send a picture every hour of where you are, that would be considered stalking.”
Approximately 1 in every 6 U.S. women and 1 out of every 19 U.S. men have been stalked in their lifetime, and women aged 18-24 are most likely to suffer from stalking.
“With stalking, I’d say that if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, acknowledge that and don’t just minimize it and rationalize it. Take it seriously, talk to someone,” said Smith. “Because especially when we look at abusive relationships that involve stalking, it raises that lethality, so there’s such a risk of someone getting really hurt, or dying.”
According to the International Labor Organization, there are around 40.3 million victims of human trafficking in the world.
“I think the awareness around human trafficking has gotten better. I think that before a few years ago, people believed that human trafficking exists, but it exists somewhere else that’s not here,” said Smith. “When you look at the numbers, there’s a raise in victims coming and receiving services, they’ve raised on the calls to the human trafficking hotline, but that’s not because human trafficking has suddenly exploded, it’s been there for a long time. But people are more aware of it and more aware of the signs. I think we’re more educated, the community is more educated; we still have a long way to go, but it increases discussion, which increases calls and services.”
Safehouse’s events this month aim to educate and spread awareness about the occurrence of stalking and human trafficking in our everyday lives. Safehouse encourages concerned persons to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
“When you see suspicious things, call the human trafficking hotline, call it in,” said Smith. “Trust your gut in those types of situations, and I think that it’s better to say something than be sorry later. Even if you’re wrong, you did the right thing. That bystander intervention is really key.”