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Rise Up Stories

Susan Kim Wilton​

Manager, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion programming at San Francisco International Airport​

How do you envision the aviation industry Rising Up to the next level of activism in the anti-human trafficking movement in 2024?

Susan Kim Wilton: Over the last 10 years, I’ve definitely witnessed more thoughtful movement by U.S. airports in this space – increasing human trafficking awareness efforts via various campaigns, developing protocol, assembling task forces, and rolling-out personnel training, to name some efforts.  We’ve also seen an uptick in resources and education materials published which helps create greater advocacy and support within the aviation industry. 
 
For me, next level activism in 2024 propels airports forward beyond individualized compliance training, which is where I see a lot of the recent effort. Human trafficking in aviation is truly a global concern with so many moving parts, and this form of modern day slavery demands high level attention and collective activism by many, including aviation authorities, airline personnel, government bodies and law enforcement, as well as the general public. I’d like to see ongoing prioritization and collective commitment by each of these groups to tackle gaps within their systems and processes as highlighted through the experience and stories of survivors; and doing so with a victim centered, not victim built approach. I think what is often lost is the survivor’s experience, their (very real) needs and concerns, and the continued trauma resulting from their exploitation.

What are you committed to personally in the next 6 months at SFO and what do you envision or hope for in the broader Bay Area effort to fight trafficking in the year to come?

Susan Kim Wilton: SFO continues to be a leader in this area and I often get calls from other airports around the U.S. asking about campaigns our airport has launched, technology employed, and content of our frontline worker training. I’d love to be able to continue these conversations, sharing information and other resources while also learning from our airport partners.
 
Over the next 6-12 months, I hope to bring together airport authorities and SMEs from local Bay Area airports to discuss where to focus on new  opportunities for intervention, and openly share ideas for increased collaboration. Ultimately, the goal is to make it harder for traffickers to conduct their criminal activity at airports and create a uniformed front across airports. While operations are not uniform airport to airport and human trafficking reporting protocols may look different, the safety and security of our employees, guests, tenants, and community is a common thread that binds airports together.

How would you encourage individuals to Rise Up in this movement?

Susan Kim Wilton: 
Educate yourself. I’ve been in the human trafficking awareness and program advocacy space for over 10 years now. Before actually partnering with various community based organizations and hearing the real-life stories of survivors, I wasn’t aware of the widespread nature of exploitation. The reality is individuals are recruited and trafficked in their own hometowns every day, and your perception of what a trafficker and victim may look like (both physically and situationally) may not align. There are various human trafficking awareness training videos now available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement, educators, and government employees – start there.
 
Get moving. No matter what position you hold, or what level of influence you feel you do or do not have to effect change, get moving. The National Human Trafficking Hotline Referral Directory lists organizations within your local area and across the country, some of which may have volunteer opportunities. Meeting and/or writing to local elected officials is another way to help ensure efforts are prioritized and resources are allocated to the effort.
 
Social media. Use your social media presence to share stories and to raise awareness about human trafficking. Some hashtags I’ve personally used include #endhumantrafficking and #endtrafficking.

Rose Mukhar

Founder, CEO and Principal Attorney, Justice At Last

Justice At Last: The Only Nonprofit Law Firm in the San Francisco Bay Area Exclusively Serving Human Trafficking Survivors.

What inspires you to keep at the work you're doing and to Rise Up on a daily basis?

The reason I Rise Up every day is because our clients are incredible individuals that I want to support. It’s brave and courageous for our clients to take the step to work with us at Justice At Last. They may have shared their story multiple times, reliving their trauma in each re-telling, before they come to us. They’re rising up on their own and have already overcome so many injustices. Their courage and faith to think that someone can help them is huge. Despite the victimhood itself that is traumatic, there are other legal hurdles in front of them. As an attorney, I have the professional skills to break down those hurdles to help them move forward. Our organization is making a difference. I’ve seen it.

How do you envision Justice At Last Rising Up over the next 6 months?

In 2024, we’re launching the Pro Bono Academy to Advance Justice to Trafficking Survivors. It’s common for victims of trafficking to have been forced to commit crimes by their traffickers and to have extensive criminal records that continue to haunt survivors long after escaping the trafficking situation, creating barriers to employment, stable housing, and economic stability. 

A comprehensive vacatur law was established in 2017 in California to break the cycle of injustice that trafficking survivors face because of a criminal record caused by their trafficking experience. The problem is that there is a lack of trained attorneys and a lack of public awareness, leaving the vacatur law under-utilized to provide tangible, life-altering legal relief to trafficking survivors. 

Starting this year, we will begin providing MCLE-certified training to law firms about the legal forms of relief and what it means to provide trauma-informed lawyering. We hope to recruit and encourage pro bono attorneys to Rise Up and be acting as co-counsel with Justice At Last and to represent trafficked survivors within criminal courts to vacate their criminal records.  

The target is to train as many attorneys as we can in the Bay Area who might be interested in volunteering, and to help us increase access to justice for all trafficking survivors.

How do you see BAATC as a partner in the anti-trafficking movement?

People often hear news about trafficking and wonder, “why should I care?” What I love about Betty Ann and BAATC is their Rise Up inspiration to get people to not just understand the issue of human trafficking, but to be motivated to want to help in some capacity. I hope that we can continue to partner together to inspire people to get activated, as it’s so critical in this movement.

How would you encourage individuals to Rise Up in this movement?

If someone is looking to Rise Up, they first need to ask the question, “What is inspiring me to learn about trafficking?” Out of that curiosity, do some homework: read articles, talk to people in the community, and don’t rely on one source to determine what human trafficking is. If you’re solely relying on one source, you’re not going to have a real understanding of human trafficking’s impact on survivors. 

I’d also encourage people to
listen to survivor voices. What is the survivor movement saying about a particular issue?  If you’re wanting to participate with and support an organization, look to see if they are including and considering those with lived experience in some capacity. Are those with lived experience contributing to the work overall, or serving on the leadership, board, or as a consultant? And, are those trafficked survivors being compensated as experts with lived experience? Survivor voices need to be factored in to better understand how to combat human trafficking and best support trafficking persons.

President Obama also established a national advisory council comprised of survivors of human trafficking. Each year they issue a report with policy recommendations to support survivors of human trafficking and how to prosecute traffickers. Individuals can read the report here

Rose Mukhar is a social justice, human rights and crime victims’ rights attorney with experience in cases involving children, women, refugees, and survivors of domestic violence, torture, and human trafficking.  Her pro bono practice specialized in providing direct legal services to trafficked survivors, including immigration relief, legal advocacy of crime victim’s rights, expungement of criminal records, divorce, custody and restraining orders.  Modeled after her pro bono practice, Rose created Justice At Last to expand the legal services and outreach she provides. Rose is inspired and driven by the strength, courage and grace of her clients. 

Rose provides leadership to ensure that Justice At Last achieves its overall mission to protect the rights of trafficked persons so they can achieve justice on their own terms.

Marti MacGibbon

Marti MacGibbon

Survivor Leader, Human Trafficking Expert Consultant to the U.S. Department of State, Author, Speaker, and Certified Behavioral Health Professional

As a Survivor Leader and advocate who combats trafficking at the international level, and as a Human Trafficking Expert Consultant to the US Department of State, what motivates you to Rise Up each day?

Every morning, I wake up with a gratitude exercise. I give thanks for the simple fact of being alive, and then I ride the wave of gratitude, focusing on my strengths and creating opportunities to support, encourage, and inspire others. As a professional speaker and consultant, I’m motivated to Rise Up each day to give a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to the professionals and service providers who are helping survivors on a daily basis. Affirmations, positive self-talk, physical exercise, positive visualization, and surrounding myself with a positive network of friends, mentors, and colleagues, helps me to Rise Up again and again. 

How has the involvement of survivors/lived experience experts evolved and strengthened over the years in the fight against human trafficking? Give some examples of how Survivor Leaders have Risen Up and amplified both the individual and collective voices of survivors.

In 1985 I was trafficked to Japan as an adult by a woman I met in the Bay Area when I was trying to escape a domestic violence situation. This was prior to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Years later in 2009, I came out publicly as a survivor because I wanted to speak out against the wall of misinformation about human trafficking. At the time, I committed myself to dispelling the societal stigma against victims and survivors of human trafficking, and against those who suffer from substance use disorder, PTSD, homelessness and intimate partner violence. I began speaking out as often as possible: at the California State Legislature and at universities, churches, and conferences. I also served on the Indiana Attorney General’s anti-trafficking task force. 
 
Across the nation, other survivors were doing similar work becoming Survivor Leaders. We began to reach out to each other and to organize efforts to be recognized for our lived experience expertise. With the help of legislators, we advocated for and passed the historic Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Act in 2015, which established the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking comprised of 11 Survivor Leaders who provide recommendations to the President’s Interagency Task Force. We also established a legal requirement at the federal level for survivors to be compensated for their experiential expertise at the standard hourly rate for any expert professional. 

Who are some other survivor leaders whom you admire and respect, whose wisdom inspires us all?

The people I admire are those who have experienced extreme trauma and adversity, yet through the power of the human spirit, and a dedication to freedom, they have emerged and now refuse to let their past define them or hold them back as they work toward a more positive life.

I am currently serving as President of Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program, Inc., a nonprofit based in NYC and Indonesia. I admire the Mentari founders, my colleagues Shandra Woworuntu and Ima Matul who are both Survivor Leaders. Shandra and Ima served on the first United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking during the Obama Administration. At Mentari, Shandra and Ima  welcome, support, and empower survivors regardless of gender, immigration status, or the type of exploitation they experienced. Mentari also serves members of the LGBT+ community and assists survivors in every step along the way as they build their future by providing job training via a Culinary Academy, as well as referrals to programs for other careers. 

How would you encourage individuals to Rise Up in this movement?

Knowledge is power, so learn all you can about human trafficking. Stand against misinformation and disinformation and let your friends and acquaintances know what’s really going on. Explore a variety of nonprofits and foundations involved in combating human trafficking. Make sure that survivors are centered in the structure. For example, does the NGO have survivors in leadership, on the Board of Directors, or on the Advisory Board? Look for anti-trafficking organizations that amplify the voices of survivors/lived experience experts. Take the time to research each organization before you donate your time or money. 

Marti MacGibbon, CADC-II, is an internationally known speaker, author, and humorist, an expert on trauma resolution and addiction, holding five professional certifications in the behavioral health field. She is a Human Trafficking Expert Consultant to the U.S. Dept. of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and is President of Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program in NYC. 

Marti has survived and triumphed over human trafficking, adolescent sexual assault/abuse/exploitation, domestic violence, complex PTSD, addiction, and homelessness. She is the recipient of the IAIC Lifetime Recovery Advocate Award, for outstanding accomplishments in support of recovery and reducing the stigma surrounding addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and human trafficking. 

An expert on human trafficking, overcoming adversity, and behavioral health, Marti trains judicial, criminal justice, medical, and mental health professionals. She spoke at the United Nations on UN 2023 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Due to her work in passing the Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Act in 2015, Marti has spoken at the White House, State Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office for Victims of Crime, on mental health and policy advocacy. 

Marti is author of two award-winning memoirs, Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom and, Fierce, Funny, and Female. Marti has toured the U.S. as a professional standup comic.  https://martimacgibbon.com/ 

John Vanek

John Vanek

Lieutenant with the San Jose Police Department where he managed the Human Trafficking Task Force from 2006-2011, Member of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, and Author

You have been such a pioneering voice in the Bay Area with your local work in law enforcement to fight trafficking. What have you seen as a great trend or change in the anti-trafficking movement from your early days till now?

Wow, so much has changed since I first got involved in the response to human trafficking in 2006. For the first few years, very few people were even familiar with the term. There was very little public awareness or knowledge of trafficking outside the small number of organizations who were involved in the anti-trafficking community, or a few faith-based organizations.

The San Jose Police Department received one of the first grants from the United States Department of Justice to form a Human Trafficking Task Force. We worked in collaboration with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking as well as other partners that included victim services agencies and federal and local law enforcement partners. We were extremely fortunate to have really great people to work with, but we were literally doing something that had never been done before: creating a collaborative to work on this huge problem. The grant program had four goals: identify victims of human trafficking, prosecute offenders, train local law enforcement, and raise public awareness. There was no blueprint for how to accomplish any of these tasks, so we had to create a plan.

We focused our efforts on raising public awareness and training local law enforcement, as you can’t identify victims if you don’t know what trafficking is or what to look for. We tried a variety of ways to accomplish our goals. While some were not successful, some were and are still being used today. Now, 18 years later, everyone is familiar with the term human trafficking, and law enforcement has recognized the importance of having human trafficking detectives in their agencies.

What have you learned about the local fight against trafficking and where are we headed in terms of continuing to fight this criminal activity in the communities where we work and live?

We cannot be successful fighting human trafficking without law enforcement being actively involved. And, what many people don’t understand, is that law enforcement all across the United States has been tremendously impacted by the shift in public sentiment toward law enforcement in the past four years. Virtually every agency is under-staffed and struggling to recruit qualified men and women.

People need to understand that agency staffing levels have a direct impact on where the law enforcement agency can direct their attention. Many agencies are overwhelmed with responsibilities that don’t allow their officers the time to be trained on how to investigate human trafficking, or conduct the necessary investigations when they encounter a potential human trafficking case. This issue of staffing will not end soon. It will take years to overcome.

How can individuals support local law enforcement in the fight against trafficking?

Supporting your local law enforcement agencies in any way you can is vital. Let your city or county leaders know you support law enforcement by attending meetings where public safety is discussed. Support your local agencies when they ask for pay raises or other funding (higher salaries is often the only way to lure experienced officers from other agencies) and; tell officers you see on the streets that you appreciate what they are doing in your community. Something as simple as a smile and “hello” can let officers know they are valued.

What inspires you to keep at the work you're doing and to Rise Up on a daily basis?

Since retiring from the San Jose Police Department 12 years ago, I’ve been very fortunate in that my work since has been filled with wonderful opportunities for me to partner with people and agencies around the country. My work has been focused on building collaborative teams, so my work is very positive. I’m not dealing with the daily challenges faced by victim services providers or investigators.

In 2017 I was hired by San Mateo County as their Human Trafficking Program Coordinator, which gave me and Pamela Estes (the current Program Coordinator) the opportunity to essentially build a countywide program from the beginning. In 2021, I was hired to advise on a project that focused on identifying trafficking victims forced to work on illegal cannabis farms, most of which were tied to drug trafficking organizations, including Mexican cartels and Asian or Eastern European organized crime.

The projects I’ve been a part of have provided a variety of experiences. I’ve assisted organizations around the country in their pursuit of forming federal Human Trafficking Task Forces. I’ve also been part of teams creating resources for task forces and also setting standards for serving children and youth victims of trafficking. I’ve also written a book to help others understand the complexity of human trafficking.

New ideas with new partners excite me. That helps me keep a positive frame of mind. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to make a small difference in the lives of others. That’s my motivation to Rise Up.

How do you see BAATC as a partner with law enforcement in the anti-trafficking movement?

BAATC has always been very thoughtful in the role they are currently in, and how they can make a difference moving forward. They’ve also been very supportive of law enforcement. BAATC understands the challenges faced by law enforcement in responding to human trafficking, and the need for law enforcement to be involved in collaborative efforts. BAATC has a great voice in the communities they serve, which is beyond just the Bay Area, and their credibility is recognized. I’ve seen BAATC encourage others to support law enforcement, and I’ve also had them on the ground beside me during anti-trafficking investigations. They understand the big picture, but also get things done when needed. Not every anti-trafficking organization has both those attributes.

How would you encourage individuals to Rise Up in this movement?

First, be sure you truly understand what human trafficking is and isn’t! Human trafficking is  a much more complex issue than many understand. And, the response to trafficking is even more complex! Attend trainings or read books that examine all the sub-topics related to trafficking.

If you want to get involved, spend some time learning what’s going on in your community already. Learn what the needs are before devoting your efforts in ways that are either duplicative, or just aren’t needed in your community. Engage with other individuals and organizations, and be willing to collaborate with others. Each of us has a role to play in the fight against trafficking. When we add up all the small differences we make as individuals, great things can happen.

John Vanek has worked with law enforcement agencies, non-governmental and community-based organizations, academic institutions, and private sector companies in the response to human trafficking since 2006. John served 25 years with the San Jose Police Department, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant, where he managed the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force from 2006-2011. As part of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, John’s efforts helped launch collaborative partnerships throughout Northern California. John is also the author of The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery (2016). Along with 16 expert contributors John addresses the most often-asked questions about human trafficking.

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