L-R: Kaye Van Nevel (Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland), Jaimee Johnson (Sisters of the Streets), and Stephanie Gonzalez (North County Lifeline) were speakers at a panel discussion entitled “Human Trafficking In Our Backyard” at the Vista Library on July 16, 2016.
July 21, 2016, Vista, CA—Jaimee Johnson, founder of Sisters of the Streets (sistersofthestreets.org) and a survivor of sex trafficking, was the featured speaker at a recent panel discussion in July at the Vista Library on “Human Trafficking In Our Own Backyard.” Other panelists were Kaye Van Nevel of Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland and Stephanie Gonzalez, a case manager at North County Lifeline who works with law enforcement to provide care to victims of human trafficking who have been rescued by the police.
Kaye Van Nevel introduced the panel and spoke about Soroptimist International’s Stop Trafficking program. The local Soroptimist club in Vista and North County Inland (soroptimistvista.org) has been holding an Awareness Event and Walk each January in downtown Vista for the past ten years, and the Vista club, with support from the United Methodist Church, formed an Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative, which meets every other month at the United Methodist Church in Vista, hosting guest speakers involved in the fight against sex trafficking.
Jaimee Johnson spoke movingly about how she first became ensnared by her initial trafficker, and the ways that he played upon her vulnerabilities to lure her into the life of a prostitute. After many failed attempts to leave that life, Jaimee finally had what she called “a God moment” when she was about to meet a client. “I had driven to meet him, was about to get out of the car when my hand slipped from the car door handle,” she recalled, breaking down in tears in front of the sympathetic audience. Instead of opening the car door, Jaimee said, she drove to a beach in Carlsbad, where she sat on the sand and prayed for over an hour.
Jaimee left the life for good and now heads up an organization she formed to help fellow victims of trafficking called “Sisters of the Streets.” I want to help women recreate themselves and find life outside of the sex industry,” she said. She hopes someday to be able to establish a home for victims to help them re-enter society and recover their self-esteem.
Stephanie Gonzalez from North County Lifeline (nclifeline.org) spoke about her organization’s “Project LIFE.” Project LIFE (Living In Freedom From Exploitation) was started in 2011, when the North San Diego County Human Trafficking Task Force busted 38 gang members and rescued 35 victims of local trafficking in a sting operation. All 35 victims were students at local high schools. Project LIFE case workers are trained to work with rescued victims, providing support to them as they attempt to re-enter society. Most recently, Project LIFE received a three-year federal grant to increase outreach and services to men, boys and the LGBTQ community who are also victimized by sex traffickers.
Four non-profit organizations involved in helping trafficked victims had information tables at the event, and each spoke briefly about their services. The Alabaster Jar Project, based in Poway, operates Grace House, a safe house in Vista for victims, FACESS (Freeing American Children from Exploitation and Sexual Slavery), operates a campus for trafficked children in a remote area of Northern California, and recently launched the “ToGetHer Freedom” (togetherfreedom.org) Initiative to provide services and support for girls who may not be able to come to their campus. Olivia Navarro of Shining Stars Ministry spoke of her organization’s goal “to rescue and restore women and children victimized by sexual slavery and human trafficking industry.” Finally, Marisol Garduno, Women’s Resource Center, Oceanside, spoke about the shelter facilities and wrap-around services for women who are primarily victims of domestic violence. Women’s Resource Center has also assisted victims of human trafficking.
Alabaster Jar Project
Women’s Resource Center, Oceanside