Public and community partners take deep look into human exploitation and prevention
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Ca.—The first day of an online conference exploring the impacts of human trafficking in Riverside County concluded Monday with experts exposing the tricks of online predators and offering tools to keep kids safe.
The free annual conference is set to continue through Thursday. Speakers this week include Dr. Katariina Rosenblatt, human trafficking survivor and author of Stolen; Opal Singleton, President and CEO of Million Kids and trainer with the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.
Riverside County ranks third behind Los Angeles and San Diego counties in the number of human trafficking victims and sexually exploited youth statewide. About 500 cases of child sex trafficking were reported across Riverside County in 2019. Foster youth, children who have run away, and those experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to traffickers, experts caution.
“An at-risk youngster can fall victim to a predator in just 48 hours,” said Norma Vazquez, conference panelist and Anti-Human Trafficking Director of Operation Safehouse, a non-profit helping teens in trouble in Riverside County.
Charity Douglas, assistant director of Children Services, a division of Riverside County Dept. of Public Social Services (DPSS), said the forum offers stakeholders the chance to better understand a traumatic crime that has lifelong impacts on survivors, families and communities.
“We are empowering parents, guardians and community members with tools and resources to educate and protect at-risk children,” Douglas said. “Each child is precious, and each child deserves protection from those who would exploit and harm them.”
Sayori Baldwin, director of Riverside County DPSS, said this week’s conference demonstrates the collective power of community collaboration when it comes to keeping children safe.
“Moving the conference online helped us reach a wider audience and amplifies our message about the importance of a collaborative approach to protecting the children in our own backyard,” Baldwin said.
Panelists on cyber security provided tips to help parents and guardians recognize red flags that would alert them to possible online predators.
“This is where grooming begins,” said Clayford Cranford, a southern California police sergeant and cyber safety expert. “It is not complicated, they just become friends online,”
Cranford, author of Parenting in the Digital World, advised parents to talk to their kids about making smart choices, to be vigilant about who they are interacting with online, and limit screen time.
The conference coincides with National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time to spread awareness and renew dedication to ending all forms of exploitation.
To report suspected human trafficking, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.