Friday, January 27, 2012

One-to-One Mentoring Friendships Prove Successful: an Interview with Rhonda Staley-Brooks

In January, our nation spotlights the importance of mentors and the need for every child to have a caring adult in his or her life. Hundreds of organizations, nonprofit groups and government agencies are doing their part during National Mentoring Month to support our young people.

The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) understands the significance of mentoring and recognizes that its benefits often include reduced criminal behavior. CalVCP took a moment and met with the well-known, long-standing mentorship organization Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). Here, in edited excerpts from a conversation with Mrs. Rhonda Staley-Brooks, President and CEO of the Sacramento chapter, Mrs. Staley-Brooks shares her beginnings with BBBS and the program’s positive impact.

Q. What led you to work with BBBS?
A. That is a rather funny story. I was a sophomore in college and my dad told me I needed to get a job to pay for my social life. I found the BBBS job on the CSUS job line, but I did not think I would make a career out of it. Now, almost 19 years later, I still love what I do! I get to see the impact of the lives we have touched; I have seen thousands of children benefit from the services we provide.

Q. What is your favorite Little/Big story?
A. The first match I ever paired lasted 6 years. Ian (Big) and Brent (Little) had both lost their fathers to tragic accidents. Ian had a Big Brother when he was a young boy. Brent graduated from high school and went on to UC Davis and received his degree in Electrical Engineering. The two are still in touch today.

Q. Funding must be challenging as most of it comes through grants, events and donations. Describe one or two of your signature fundraisers.
A. Bowl for Kids' Sake is an annual event where teams raise pledges for and awareness of BBBS. This year, Bowl for Kids’ Sake is scheduled for February 25. We also host Big Disco 6, an annual dinner to celebrate the Big of the Year recipients, dress in groovy attire, dance, and have a silent and live auction. This year, Big Disco 6 is scheduled for November 2.

Q. Studies show that having a Big Brother or Big Sister offers tangible benefits for youth. Little Brothers and Little Sisters were less likely to have started using drugs or alcohol, felt more competent about doing schoolwork, attended school more, got better grades, and had better relationships with their parents and peers than they would have had they not participated in the program.1 What are some of the most significant benefits you see from the one-to-one mentor relationship?
A. I see more children staying in school, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and fewer teen parents.

Q. What has been the most rewarding part of your job since you started with BBBS?
A. It is always moving to see Littles come back and become Bigs themselves.

Rhonda Staley-Brooks serves as the current President and Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sacramento. She has served in that capacity for ten years and has been working with BBBS for 19 years. In that time, Brooks has gone from a caseworker, earning her degree at CSU Sacramento, to program manager, and finally holds the position of local chapter executive officer. 

1 Tierney, Joseph, P., Grossman, Jean, B., & Resch Nancy, L. (1995). Making a difference: An impact study of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Retrieved from

Monday, January 23, 2012

Human Trafficking: Meeting the Need in San Francisco

Given that human trafficking impacts millions worldwide and thousands right here in the U.S., and that 80% of victims are women and children, there was no question that the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women would get involved.

Sadly, San Francisco has a long history of human trafficking, beginning with the importing of Chinese women to work in brothels during the Gold Rush days and beyond. Thankfully, we also have a history of fighting back. Gum Moon Women’s Residence, a transitional housing program currently funded by the Department, began offering safety to trafficked Chinese women as early as the 1870s.

More recently, and as a catalyst of our ongoing efforts, San Francisco was the site of a national sting in 2005. Operation Gilded Cage uncovered over one hundred Korean women trafficked into our city and forced into prostitution at legal, City-sanctioned massage parlors. The Department was spurred to fund the Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative in 2006 to conduct outreach into the Asian community and to raise awareness about this crime. It became evident that our efforts were not complete, and we realized we needed to engage in this issue on a policy level. The one hundred freed Korean women – and the thousands of women, men, and children still enslaved out of sight – demanded it of us.

In 2009, the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women teamed up with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and the Jewish Coalition to End Human Trafficking to host the first ever Community Forum on Human Trafficking in our city. The 2009 Community Forum hosted over 150 advocates engaged in the fight to end human trafficking.

Following the Forum, the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT) was quickly formed to raise awareness, strengthen partnerships among members, and monitor trafficking data and legislation. The Collaborative officially launched in January 2010 with a month-long awareness campaign. Over 20 agencies represent a broad array of non-governmental organizations, government agencies, law enforcement leaders, service providers, educators, and community members. The work of the Collaborative is jointly shared between the Department and the Human Rights Commission.

Raising awareness is one of the most pressing needs in the fight against human trafficking. When speaking about human trafficking at public events, the most common reaction is surprise – surprise that it exists at all, surprise that it exists here in the U.S., in California, in San Francisco. If the public does not realize that the crime is occurring, public policy will lag far behind the needs of survivors. Slowly, legislators are proposing new laws to create harsher punishments for perpetrators, and to create a fund for services for survivors.

For example, when California legislators penned the 2005 state law against human trafficking, the fine for perpetrators was a paltry $5,000. As of last year, new legislation allows law enforcement officials to confiscate property, real estate, and cars used in the crime, with proceeds to support local services.

Even so, few agencies exist with the sole mission of serving trafficking survivors. And while expertise exists in the community, to truly develop a holistic, multi-faceted victim-centered response network, we need more resources and training for service providers, law enforcement, and City workers.

The needs of survivors of trafficking are not simple. Trafficking survivors have compounding issues at play that make their stories uniquely challenging. For example, survivors of international trafficking are often controlled through threats to family members in their home countries. Thus, even if they are rescued by law enforcement, they may be unwilling or unable to cooperate in order to protect their loved ones. Victims must make tough decisions about whether they will cooperate with the U.S. Attorney and other law enforcement or be deported back to a country that may or may not be a safe place to return to.

If a survivor elects to remain in the U.S., perhaps through a T visa or some other form of legal relief, she or he must assimilate to a new culture, learn a new language, learn how to navigate a foreign city, and find employment, education, and counseling services, as well as legal support for any immigration or other legal proceedings necessitated by that decision. These can be overwhelming obstacles, and require intensive supportive services for successful healing and integration.

SFCAHT’s Awareness Campaign exists so that people may know that trafficking occurs; as it is only through the outrage and advocacy of everyday citizens that we can pass laws to penalize traffickers and raise funds for survivors. Everyone must take a stand.

For more about the Department on the Status of Women’s work, visit For more about the SF Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, visit

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fighting Human Trafficking in California

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified abolishing slavery in the U.S., yet it is disturbing to note that 147 years later, thousands of human beings, many of whom are children, are taken forcibly from their homes and families and forced into prostitution or other subservient environments.

This form of modern-day slavery occurs worldwide. Victims are of all ages, including young children. Forms of human trafficking include: forced hard labor, sex trafficking, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor and child sex trafficking. The website indicates that from 1998 to 2003, more than 500 victims from 18 countries were found in California, and it is believed that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

California is unfortunately a top destination and hub for traffickers due to the need for workers, a large immigrant population, extensive borders, and major harbors and airports. The State Capitol, Sacramento, is a target location for these illegal activities because of its locale. Nestled at the crossroads of four interstate highways, victims can be easily moved throughout the state, staying one step ahead of the authorities. Still, many residents are shocked and surprised that trafficking exists at all in California.

Public awareness is one of the most important tools in the fight against trafficking. Victims are here among us in plain sight, but many of us don’t know what to look for. Since 2005, the FBI has recovered 200 children forced to work as prostitutes in the Sacramento area. The FBI group, Innocence Lost Task Force, formed to address the growing problem of children forced into prostitution, has recovered more than 1,200 children from the streets throughout the U.S. in the last seven years. The internet is now used as a conduit for making these illicit transactions even easier.

It is difficult to assess the actual number of victims; it is such a covert activity. However, the Homeland Security estimates that there may be as many as 800,000 victims in the U.S. today. The Congressional Research Services advises that “as many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked into the U.S. each year.” Many victims are undocumented foreigners who fear deportations if they cooperate with law enforcement officials, but many are citizens.

Thankfully, in October 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was enacted. Prior to that, no comprehensive federal law existed to protect victims of trafficking or to prosecute their traffickers. In 2005, California passed the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which made human trafficking a felony. California continued to strengthen this law, increasing the fine from $5,000 to $20,000 for any person convicted of forcing into prostitution a child under the age of 16. It also allows for the forfeiture of property and proceeds acquired through trafficking.

California is a leader in the effort to combat human trafficking, acknowledging that it is a worldwide issue; Governor Brown signed the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act that became law on January 1, 2012. The new law requires retail sellers and manufacturers with annual worldwide gross receipts over $100 million doing business in California to publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chain.

By becoming more knowledgeable and raising awareness, Californians can do our part to combat human trafficking. Join us in fighting this terrible scourge.

Anna M. Caballero serves Governor Jerry Brown as a cabinet member and as Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency. She is responsible for the oversight of departments charged with civil rights enforcement, consumer protection, and licensure for 2.4 million working professionals. She has served in state and local government as Mayor of Salinas, as a city council member for fifteen years, and in the California State Assembly for four years. Prior to her election to the Assembly, Caballero established Partners for Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to youth violence prevention in Salinas.