Soroptimists to host education workshop on sex trafficking awareness

Organizer: 'It's an ongoing effort to make the public aware'

Soroptimist International will host a sex trafficking awareness workshop on Wednesday night to educate kids and their parents about how to recognize the signs of a sex trafficking victim. (Soroptimist International — contributed)

Soroptimist International of Eureka will host a workshop aimed at children and their parents to educate them about the dangers of sex trafficking and how to support the victims.

The event, scheduled for Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m., will feature a video presentation followed by a panel comprised of local law enforcement, legislative advocates, a local trafficking survivor and representatives from local organizations focused on addressing trafficking.

“We are trying to make the public aware of the problem of trafficking in our community — it’s an awareness program and also want attendees to be aware of agencies here to help them,” said Elaine Reed, spokesperson for Soroptimist International of Eureka. “This is aimed at kids and trying to make kids aware of the dangers of trafficking and we want their parents to know what signs to look for. This has been a project of Soroptimists for many years and it’s an ongoing effort to make the public aware. We have a program called STOP Trafficking and all clubs are encouraged to do a project to alleviate the situation.”

Heidi Messner, who founded Empower, Protect, Invest (E.P.I.) in 2015 after a convicted sex trafficker, David Anderson, was sentenced to prison following a trial in Humboldt County Superior Court, will also be in attendance and she sees growth in local collaboration between private citizens, advocacy organizations and law enforcement.

“We have a database we are putting together for all the support providers in the area,” Messner said. “We have been collaborating with local law enforcement and we do outreach and education programs to local police departments and the sheriff’s office and we’re going to do parenting workshops. We’re also pulling girls off the streets in Eureka.”

Messner said one aim is to open a housing facility to help victims recover and pointed out that outreach and education efforts have been paying off. Training, she said, played a role in the apprehension of Anderson who was arrested by Eureka police in December 2018, following a months-long investigation. Anderson was released from prison in March 2018 and he now faces life in prison under new laws passed by the California Legislature.

Messner said awareness is slowly making its way into the mainstream of society’s consciousness and urged for more education programs to address the issue.

“I’ve been working with hospitals and they are now educating their staffs because most survivors say they were in the emergency room at least once while being trafficked,” she said. “St. Joe’s has been doing a lot of good work and they started a pilot training program in September. We’re trying to make sure that everyone is involved and every connection I can make is important. We want to keep this out of our communities.”

Star Pahl, a survivor, founded STAR — Sex Trafficking Awareness Response — and will attend the meeting and introduce the board for her organization as well.

Humboldt County Undersheriff Justin Braud will represent the county at the meeting.

Tina Sims and Eureka Councilwoman Heidi Messner spoke to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors last week about sex trafficking and some grants that will be given locally through the Humboldt Area Foundation. (Screenshot)

At its Feb. 19 meeting, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to have the Humboldt Area Foundation award two $10,000 grants, one to Messner’s E.P.I. program and one to the Native Women’s Collective so the groups can develop approaches and strategies related to assisting sex trafficking victims.

If you go

What: Sex Trafficking Awareness Program held by Soroptimist International of Eureka

Where: Boys and Girls Teen Center, 3015 J Street, Eureka

When: Wednesday, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Cost: Free

More information:

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