When she was 12 years old, Carissa Phelps was trafficked. She tells that story in her book Runaway Girl. Today, armed with a PhD and MBA from UCLA, she works to provide career development and employment opportunities for runaways and former runaways through the organization of the same name.
On November 1st, she will bring her story to raise awareness — and, she hopes, prompt action — to a morning conference at Trinity Church entitled Hearts For Justice: Coming Together to Confront Violence Against Women, which is free and open to the public.
“It is much easier to criminalize the behavior than to deal with the more difficult issue — that we’ve made it okay to purchase sex with children,” she said in a telephone interview. “If we do nothing, it’s accepting the status quo. Once we realize there is an actual impact in our community, we can start down the path. It’s a difficult road, but it’s very inspiring when you realize there are solutions.”
The California Legislature defined human trafficking as “all acts involved in the recruitment, abduction, transport, harboring, transfer, sale or receipt of persons, within national or across international borders, through force, coercion, fraud or deception, to place persons in situations of slavery or slavery-like conditions, forced labor or services, such as forced prostitution or sexual services, domestic servitude, bonded sweatshop labor, or other debt bondage.”
“I think people know it’s happening in communities like Menlo Park,” said Carissa. “Wherever there is money, there is demand.
“But it’s not just the money, it’s the fact that there is an international workforce [in the Bay Area] that may not understand that it’s not okay to purchase sex with a child.”
In the years since she formed Runaway Girl, Carissa has seen progress. “Awareness has increased. When a runaway is picked up in the middle of the night or on the weekend, we need to respond as professionals. We need to work to get people where they are needed to be with the victims as soon as possible.
“We’re working to train people to be more skilled in how they respond to survivors of both sex and labor trafficking.
“Each one of us can make an impact, no matter what skill set a person brings. If a person has a heart for this issue, they can make a difference. That’s the message we want to underscore at the Trinity event.”
Hearts for Justice will take place from 10:00 am to noon on the Trinity campus at 330 Ravenswood in Menlo Park. Also speaking will be David Batstone, co-founder and president of the global abolitionist organization, Not for Sale, and The Rev. Becca Stevens, the founder of Magdalene, residential communities of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction and also Thistle Farms, a social enterprise that is run by the women of Magdalene.
The morning will also feature a Shared Trade Marketplace of global handmade and quality home and body products from Shared Trade: A Fair Share for Women. Local Bay Area organizations that work in prevention and with survivors will be on site so that attendees can all learn more about local efforts to fight trafficking.
The program is in partnership with Kepler’s which will have representatives on hand with the presenters’ books. Space is limited, registration is available online.
Photo courtesy of Carissa Phelps