Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cycle of Crisis: Already Facing an Uphill Battle, Foster Care Children Targeted by Traffickers Too

By Rosario Dowling, Program Director & Jay Rivera, Communications Manager, CAS (Californians Against Slavery) Research & Education

Every day in California, 70 children enter the foster care system for the first, second or third time depending on each specific case. Most children enter the system as victims of physical/sexual abuse, neglect, the lack of essential needs, or abandonment. These are also well-known indicators of vulnerability for a potential sex trafficking victim.

Where are our foster care children being housed? In out-of-home placements, group homes, juvenile hall, and homeless on our streets. In Sacramento alone, two of the children’s receiving homes are situated along “tracks” of pimping and pandering. It is no wonder that 75% of the girls that I have come in contact with in juvenile hall are from foster care and in a cycle of endless visits to our states’ juvenile court system.

A recent House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) hearing on Feb. 26, titled, “The State of Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking” had a detective testify that 67% of sex trafficked victims were in foster care or in the care of social services. The State of Human Trafficking Report released in 2012 found that 72% of the sex trafficked victims reported were born in the US.

Ending this cycle of crisis isn’t an easy fix but a long term solution that requires the efforts of everyone in the community—not just adoptive parents, emergency placement homes, and respite care homes. Teachers, mentors, role models, friends: become the stability and support that our children need and crave. Intervene on their behalf before the traumatized child becomes the 14% statistic that exits the system of “care” and enters the prison system, as stated in a 2011 Senate Office of Research CA report. We know who and where targeted victims of sex trafficking are. The resources are already in place to combat human trafficking. We cannot blame social services for the ills of our children, if we ourselves are not lining up to care for them.

Rosario Dowling has been a chronic volunteer from an early age, starting as a bilingual tutor in 3rd grade. She believes that championing the “underdog,” especially those in their adolescent years, is vital to the fabric of our community. Besides having the perfect job, she still finds time to volunteer at the Sacramento County Juvenile Hall through Bridge-Network’s Motivated For Change program; mentoring, retraining, and redirecting of current mindsets for better outcomes with male wards in the Placement (group home) Unit. Rosario was an instrumental member of PROPOSITON 35 Team, leading its grassroots effort in Northern California.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When SMS Becomes an SOS: Using Texting as a Serious Resource

It should come as no surprise that text messaging is the most common form of communication among American youth today. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 63 percent of teenagers exchange text messages daily, a rate that surpasses phone calls, emails, social network site messaging, instant messaging, and even face-to-face socializing (outside of school).

As cell phones become an extension of the modern teen, we have seen a spike in the number of text hotlines established as an alternative method of providing crisis help. The reason for this is simple: the convenience and accessibility of texting makes it an attractive option for reaching out to younger victim demographics.

Firstly, the texting platform has a unique ability to break down the psychological and physical barriers that prevent people from getting assistance. While making an actual phone call can be daunting (and even dangerous) for a victim, texting provides privacy and anonymity to those who might not otherwise seek help from formal safety resources. Simply put, it is easier to type one’s feelings than to vocalize them to a stranger. This rings especially true when dealing with sensitive subject matter such as sexual assault or abuse, depression, and suicide. Making a phone call might not always be feasible, but a text can be covertly sent by a person who is in physical danger or in the immediate vicinity of family, friends, or teachers who may be able to listen in on a spoken conversation. In addition, texting can eliminate fears over social stigmas associated with many of these issues.

Texting as a crisis help method can also be beneficial for advocates and service providers, allowing them to better communicate and empathize with teen and young adult audiences. Crisis experts contend that people who text crisis lines are in need of the same services as those calling hotlines: risk assessment, emotional validation, and collaborative problem solving. Text messaging allows crisis counselors to provide these services to young adults as efficiently and effectively as possible.

For example, the ability to save text history means that any time a person contacts a hotline following his/her initial dialogue exchange, a counselor can pull up archives and pick up the conversation right where it left off. This personalized interaction strengthens feelings of trust, support, and understanding. At the same time, counselors are able to assist multiple people simultaneously, as well as consult best approaches with fellow colleagues.

How will this impact the future of victims’ services? Nancy Lublin, founder of Crisis Text Line, stresses that texts provide real-time information that can reveal patterns—time, date, and geographical frequencies—for people in crisis. With this knowledge, counselors can better match people with the emergency services and local resources they need. At the legislative level, the aggregate data might even be used to influence public policy related to victims’ rights and victims’ services.

The National Dating Abuse Helpline estimates that its text line, launched in 2011, currently accounts for about 20 percent of operations. As that number continues to grow, integration of mobile technologies will be key to supporting a victim-centric approach in our field. Crisis text lines such as Crisis Text Line, the National Dating Abuse Helpline, and Teen Line (based in Los Angeles and operated by teens) represent a fusion of technology and victims’ services that will allow advocates, providers, and first responders to continue expanding victim reach and better respond to people in crisis.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.