City sheds light on human trafficking issue

Left to right: Sarah Johnson, Kristin Maxwell, and Melissa Gomez of Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) hold up the proclamation presented to them by the City of Clovis that declares January 2018 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. (Ron Sundquist/Clovis Roundup)

The Clovis city council has declared January 2018 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

At a meeting Monday, Jan. 8, council member Vong Mouanoutoua read a proclamation into the record that stated some sobering statistics: There are an estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery globally where one in four victims are children, according to the International Labor Organizations; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates one out of six endangered runaways were likely sex trafficking victims; and the U.S. Department of Labor identified 139 goods from 75 countries made by forced and child labor.

The City of Clovis presented this proclamation at its Jan. 8 council meeting to declare January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. (Ron Sundquist/Clovis Roundup)

Though the statistics are national and global, the local community is unfortunately not immune, with many California trafficking victims originating from the Central Valley, both sex trafficking victims as well as those forced to do manual labor across the state.

For the past several years, the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) has been addressing the issue with its Central Valley Against Human Trafficking Project, which has served nearly 600 survivors of human trafficking since 2009, including 175 in 2017 alone.

Melissa Gomez, the manager of the EOC project, said this is the first year the city of Clovis has made such a proclamation and noted it is timely as the city’s transit system recently partnered with the organization’s Safe Place program, which helps to identify runaways and victims and offers them a safe place to get help and services.

“It really takes a village and community to come together and raise awareness, and get the community involved in these issues,” Gomez said. “I’m really excited to see how involved Clovis is becoming from this.”

Gomez added that the services the EOC program provides are of immense importance to those in need who are escaping the clutches of human trafficking situations.

Gomez quoted one survivor who said: “I’m free to think on my own, to make my own choices, to go where I want to go, to do what I want, to eat what I want, to go to sleep and wake up when I want. I can have what I want in life, I can be with my family, I can take care of my dad and no more lockdowns or court times. I can see what I really want to become.”

Another individual, Gomez said, recently shared with her that she was thankful just to have a place to put her socks.

“That is something we take for granted, but she didn’t have just a little drawer where she could put her socks and her clothing and those types of things. She was talking about the stability our program can provide for her so she can start getting those things in her life,” Gomez said. “We’ve seen other survivors get their GED, go back to school, and several who have gone to Fresno City College and are now aiming toward Fresno State. It is really exciting to see individuals go from a place of having suffered a horrific crime and being in fear for their lives to now being able to move forward with self-sufficiency and gain trust and hope in their lives for their futures.”

Clovis citizens will have an opportunity to hear from more human trafficking survivors as well as law enforcement officials and social workers at the Central Valley 9th Annual “Be Free” Conference on Human Trafficking, which will be held at Clovis Veterans Memorial District from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 20.

Over 500 people attended last year’s conference at CVMD, Gomez said, and she anticipates another large turnout this year. For more information, visit