Current Events

Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: The Gift of Giving . . . and Receiving

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

Tis the season for giving . . . and receiving. Have you ever thought about why it’s sometimes hard to receive gifts? Most people like to give gifts instead of receive them. There’s something to say about having a giving heart—to be responsible for invoking happiness in another. Happiness is contagious. It feels good to know you helped make someone smile. You experience excitement and glee as you wait for the person to find out what you’ve gotten them. You don’t do it for the “thank you,” you give because you know you’re sharing a positive, uplifting emotion with someone you’re connected to.  What a great feeling, right?

Giving gifts feels good, but if you think about it, receiving gifts offers an opportunity to experience an entirely different emotion. It also “feels good,” but there’s something “deep” that tends to happen.  Sometimes the sense of gratitude can be overwhelming (in a good way). When you receive a gift, you feel warm, peaceful, and sometimes tearful. You don’t become thankful because the gift is useful or fun (although sometimes gifts are AMAZING); you’re thankful because the person who gave you the gift cared about you. They dedicated a moment of their life—just to you. That’s pretty amazing too, right?

Since it’s the season of giving and receiving, take your time during each exchange and focus on the emotions you experience. Feel the sense of bright, joyful glee—and appreciate the warm feeling of gratitude.

As mentioned above, sometimes the gifts you give—or receive—are pretty awesome. We asked your NSPN family, “What is the best gift you ever gave or received?” Here’s how they answered:

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “The most memorable gift for me is a longer story than just an answer. Prior to my coming to Louisville, my family and I would host a Christmas dinner party each year for our friends. Each year there would be a gift exchange. It was a great time and a great event. After several years the decision was made that all of the couples didn’t really need gifts as all of us were blessed in our lives with our families, connections and lifestyles. We all made the decision that our normal routine of “gift giving to each other” would change and we would adopt a family each year instead. As there were six couples and multiple singles we chose larger families with several children. While it was always satisfying, the first year was truly the best as it just felt right and all of the participants truly embraced the decision and the action. There are many stories of how much were we able to give an how much we could stack in the entry way. We truly loved giving and celebrating our friendships in this manner.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “I told my mom that I wanted to take up music again and mentioned that I might like to get a keyboard. My mother passed in November and a week after she was buried, I found the keyboard she had ordered for me for Christmas. I thought it was the last gift I would ever receive from her and so it holds a special place in my heart. Little did I know that she has continued to find ways to send me gifts when I least expect but most need them.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “Music is a pretty core part of my identity, and I have driven a 1991 Volvo without a functional radio for more than 12 years. One Christmas, my partner completely surprised me with an iPod, engraved with the message, ‘Music is where it began. We make the perfect duet.’”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “The best gifts I ever received are life, free will, and faith. The best gifts I have ever given are trust and loyalty.”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “When I was in sixth grade, my younger brother, my sister, and I gathered up all of our allowance money and spare change around the house and planted a flower garden for our mother on Mother’s Day. While we were working, a lot of the other neighborhood kids came over and helped out, so by the time the garden was planted and we showed it to her, there was a crowd of kids watching. She was quite touched and still brings it up to this day!”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “A day off with no obligation.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “The most memorable and biggest gift I received was a Christmas gift from my mother in 1979. It was a Dodge Omni O24.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “I’ll always remember my first car, gifted to me from my parents. I had just come back home from a show choir competition in Branson, Missouri, and the car was waiting for me in the driveway. It was a 1998 Chevy Cavalier.”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “I’ve been given a lot of gifts in life that are important to me, but I think the best gift I received was being taught to have faith and to be a good person—no matter how difficult it is.”
  • Autumn Sandlin, Operations Specialist: “There isn’t one particular gift I can pinpoint as the best given or received. I have very creative, thoughtful family and friends who always manage to come up with something amazing during the holiday season. I also love giving gifts to the people I care about, so I’d hope they’d all think that any gift I’ve given them is the best gift at the time.”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “The best gift I ever received was a scroll from my girlfriend on Christmas Day accepting my proposal of marriage four months earlier. My mother read it in front of our family.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

What’s the best gift you ever gave—or received? Feel free to comment below.

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Sensitivity to the Season

Written by: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

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It’s October and with the season comes such traditions as pumpkins, fall leaves, trick or treat, and brisk mornings. One only needs to look at theater listings or the aisles of your local department store to see signs of Halloween. Who remembers the first time you saw the movie Halloween and heard Jamie Lee Curtis scream? Have you seen any cars named Christine lately? How many hockey masks do you have? Do crows make you shiver? Why is that balloon tied to the storm drain?

If you are one who enjoys the season, frights can be fun and create memories worth sharing. However, for many youth and adults, the signs and sounds of the season can trigger memories of experiences scarier than most of us can imagine. Just like you, Safe Place® is committed to helping youth not only BE safe but FEEL safe. As you think about how to connect with youth during this time of year, consider the following activities:

  • Invite youth to create a collage (on paper or digitally) of the images that remind them of feeling safe. Make sure there are sufficient options to address differences across culture, age, and experience.
  • Have discussions with youth new to your program about any aspect of your organization’s physical layout that is frightening or uncomfortable for them.
  • Host a group discussion of things youth rely on when they’re scared. Be prepared to respond when youth say they are never scared or when they say they have nothing or no one to rely on in those moments.
  • Ensure you are not selecting movies for group viewing or seasonal activities without considering the needs of each youth. Allow for alternative activities without disparagement. Adults working with youth may not recognize specific triggers. Corn mazes may evoke feelings of being lost. Haunted houses may trigger unsuspected reactions. Pumpkins that smile are just wrong.

If the sound of chain saws make you cringe and the idea of summer camp makes you nauseous, you understand the power of images, sounds, and, memories. Work with your staff to create safe memories for the youth you serve. It will be the treat they never forget.

Earth Day: Observations from an Amateur Environmentalist

Written by: Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations for National Safe Place Network

I’m an environmentalist, a lover of nature and someone that wants to see our planet beautiful and appropriately protected.  I’m on my patio in an older neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky as I write these words, keenly aware of nature around me. The senses of touch, sight, hearing and smell are stirred as I sit, think, and write.

The sun shines brightly and I feel the warmth of its rays. Scattered clouds float by and I’m suddenly cooled in their shadows and reminded of the great energy available through the sun. Solar power is becoming more common and affordable for individuals and should be a consideration of property owners when appropriate. On a recent vacation to the Caribbean I noticed how many homes and businesses had solar panels on their roofs, and a solar farm in a large open area with rows of solar panels undoubtedly provide power for the town. This is important there and in other places where fuel and resources have to be brought in to provide utilities. Maybe that’s something to work toward in your home and community, but if not, there are some simple things we can do to harness the sun’s power.

So what can an average person do to harness the sun’s energy? Have you ever made sun tea? If you like iced tea you can fill a clear, glass jar with water and tea bags and place it in the sun until the water is warm and the tea brews to whatever strength you like. In a short amount of time you can enjoy a glass of iced tea. And yes, you do need a freezer to make the ice – unless you have a natural source.

On clear days in the winter you can also harness the sun’s warmth by opening the blinds or curtains in sunny windows to let the rays shine through, enjoy the bright light and warm your space. In the summer, reverse that and close curtains and blinds to keep the warmth out, cool your space and reduce the energy used in air conditioning.

If you have a home with a yard and space for planting, consider planting shade trees to block the summer sun. Deciduous trees (those that loose leaves in the winter) are helpful because they let the sun in during the winter when you want the sun’s energy to warm your home. There is great value in having trees. They provide a cooling effect not only for your home but in mass they help overall heating in the environment. This is especially true in urban areas with large amounts of paving and hard surfaces that heat up in the daytime and hold that warmth at night. (You may have heard of “heat islands”.)  Undoubtedly you’ve experienced the noticeable temperature difference while driving on a summer night in a city and then passing into the country or a part of town such as a park.

As I sit, other senses are stimulated – the sense of hearing and smell. The wind is blowing through the neighbors’ trees. One is very large and the leaves have not yet come out, but you can clearly see them as they bud. The wind starts subtly and builds to a loud, rushing sound and soon quiets again to nothing. This wind cools my skin as I sit in the sun. As clouds pass I suddenly get chilly – oh the joy of spring time. My sense of hearing is also thrilled as I listen to the birds that have been awakened by spring and are singing to attract their mates. Soon nests will be filled with eggs and baby birds will hatch. I can only identify some of the birds by their song but they’re all beautiful to hear after the silence of winter.

I also distinctly recognize the smell of freshly cut grass and the faint fragrance of plant blossoms and trees nearby. All of these smells bring happiness, relaxation and memories of times gone by.

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Finally, the most obvious sense that I experience is that of sight. I’m surrounded by color – the bright green grass, new foliage on shrubbery and tiny leaves beginning to come out on the trees. Pansies in pots on the patio display vivid yellow, blue, purple, orange and rust. Some of the blooms are two-toned with light and dark in a pattern that reminds me of a monkey’s face – bringing a smile to my face. Looking across my yard I see white dogwood blossoms, bright purple azaleas and a red bud tree – all sights familiar to me since childhood. There are pink tulips, red and yellow columbine, yellow and white daffodils – so much color. I look up and marvel at the blue sky and white puffy clouds floating by.

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There in so much to take in – sound, smell, touch, and sight – all wonderful on a spring day. How does this connect to being an environmentalist? How can one experience all the beauty and not want to protect it? That is the connection. So in conclusion, here are a few things you can do to protect and preserve the beauty around you:

  1. Plant flowers, bushes, trees – whatever is appropriate for your space. It can even be a small pot of herbs, vegetables, flowers or a maple tree that will grow to shade your house. Do some research to find the appropriate plants.
  2. Put out a bird feeder or bird bath and keep it filled and cleaned to satisfy our feathered friends.
  3. If you have space, create a place to sit to take it all in, think, contemplate, and talk with a neighbor or loved one. It is amazing when you can admire nature and unplug from the unnatural.

Now, I think I’ll just sit here and take all this in just a little longer before I have to take on the tasks of the day. Happy Earth Day. Enjoy!

Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Read Across America Day

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

Today is Read Across America Day—also known as Dr. Seuss’s Birthday! Dr. Seuss is best known for his wonderfully whimsical children’s books, including The Cat in the Hat; Green Eggs and Ham; Horton Hears a Who!; The Lorax; Oh, the Places You’ll Go!; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and so many more. These books have inspired youth and adults to read since his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which was published in 1937. Dr. Seuss’s favorite book was There’s a Wocket in my Pocket!

Here are the favorite books of your NSPN family:

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “I don’t have one favorite. I love, love, love cookbooks—so I have many.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “Jane Eyre—Have loved it since childhood. I have lots of favorites that reflect my different moods, but this one stands out above the rest.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “I love the imaginative world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry along with its characters and relationships. My favorite among the books is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s an extraordinary story of adventure, danger, strength, and hope; a lesson that people aren’t always what they seem; and a quintessential demonstration of positive youth development!”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “The Bible—best stories of intrigue . . . love, hate, death, drama, miracles, free will, temptation, togetherness, divide, character, salvation, etc. It reflects the in-between phase of life, death, and even beyond.”
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: “Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas. (You’ll have to read it to discover why. J)”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “I find myself re-reading Slaughterhouse-Five every year or so. So it goes.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “The Stand, Stephen King.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I really like The Shack, by William Paul Young.”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Madeleine L’Engle; Anne of Green Gables; and Pride and Prejudice.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “I don’t really know. I recently read Me Before You and it was brilliant, funny, and heartbreaking.”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “I pretty much like any book—as long as it’s on a shelf. I receive no joy from reading. I’d rather be designing the cover of it—and other pictures—who doesn’t love pictures in books?”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “The Bible.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

Feel free to share your favorite book by leaving a comment below.

 

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National Safe Place Week: March 19-25, 2017

Written by: Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator, National Safe Place Network

National Safe Place Network (NSPN) is pleased to announce National Safe Place Week, March 19-25, 2017 (#NSPWeek2017). This nationally recognized week highlights the Safe Place program and the many valued partners who work together to provide access to immediate help and safety for all youth. NSP Week serves to recognize licensed Safe Place agencies, local site and community partners, and volunteers who are the pillars of strength that support the national safety net for youth.

NSP Week helps garner support for Safe Place and calls attention to local and national issues affecting youth. Well-planned awareness activities provide opportunities for individuals and organizations to share information about Safe Place and youth in crisis as well as opportunities to get involved in local Safe Place program efforts. Effective NSP Week activities and events: increase general awareness about Safe Place; provide opportunities for advocacy; help build community support for Safe Place and licensed Safe Place agencies; and, recognize individuals, organizations, and businesses involved in the program.

NSP Week 2017 will be celebrated nationally using the following themed days:

  • Safe Place Sunday – March 19
  • Make Some Noise Monday – March 20
  • Tell All Tuesday – March 21
  • We Stand Together Wednesday – March 22
  • TXT 4 HELP Thursday – March 23
  • Friends of Safe Place Friday – March 24
  • Safe Place Site Visit Saturday – March 25

Want to get involved and celebrate NSP Week 2017? Here are a few ways you can lend support and celebrate Safe Place:

Make Some Noise Online:

  • Join the Thunderclap: Add your support to the official Thunderclap campaign to help raise awareness about Safe Place during NSP Week. Thunderclap is a social media crowd-speaking platform that helps people be heard by saying something together. Thunderclap blasts out a timed Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr post from all supporters, creating a wave of attention. The NSP Thunderclap will launch on March 20 at 1:00 p.m. EST. Please join and share the NSP Week Thunderclap here: http://thndr.me/4Re0Nb
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  • Spread the word on social media: NSP Week is a great time to promote share information about Safe Place and youth in crisis on social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’ve created sample social media posts you can share throughout the week: http://bit.ly/2lDh95r. Click here to view, download, and share NSP Week social media images along with your posts: https://www.facebook.com/pg/NatlSafePlace/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10154752551031183
  • Change your Facebook and Twitter photos to support NSP Week: Click here to access the official NSP Week Facebook cover image and upload it to your personal and / or organization’s page: http://bit.ly/2l5ukr. You can also add a Twibbon (profile photo frame) to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Add the NSP Week Twibbon to your profile pictures and encourage others to do the same: http://twibbon.com/Support/nsp-week-2017
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Get Involved In Your Community

  • Become a Safe Place volunteer for your local licensed agency. Click here to find contact information for the licensed Safe Place agency in your community: http://nationalsafeplace.org/what-is-safe-place/where-is-safe-place/
  • Visit Safe Place sites in your community and thank employees for their commitment to serving youth. NSP Week is a great time to recognize organizations and businesses that display the Safe Place sign and respond to youth in need of help.
  • Not in a Safe Place Community? Help convene community partners (ie: youth service organizations, local government, law enforcement officials, first responders, etc.) and inform them about Safe Place and the importance of providing immediate help and safety for young people in need. NSPN is happy to provide information, resources, and support to help facilitate this conversation. If you’re interested in bringing Safe Place to your community, please let us know at info@nationalsafeplace.org.

In addition to the above, you may also donate to National Safe Place Network. Help us create more Safe Place communities nationwide and ultimately connect more youth to supportive services: www.tinyurl.com/nspndonation .

To learn more about Safe Place, please visit: http://nationalsafeplace.org/.

Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Inspired Indeed.

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

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Black History Month is observed every February to recognize and honor the great achievements of African Americans throughout history. Black History Month began in 1976 (replacing a weekly celebration) and has been strongly supported by many individuals and groups since then.

As a way to celebrate the phenomenal accomplishments of African Americans and to help you get to know your NSPN family, we’ve asked NSPN staff members:

What African American has inspired you the most and why?

  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: Maya Angelou – Her spirit, compassion, fierce courage and love of the use of words inspire me.
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: Harriet Tubman wore many hats – daughter, sister, wife, mother, survivor, protector, facilitator, host, soldier, spy, caregiver, problem solver, investor, and many others. I would call her a “bad ass social worker”.
  • Katie Carter, Director of Research, Education, and Public Policy: Barack Obama. He has faced unprecedented gridlock in Washington, DC, so much criticism, and a great amount of pressure as the first African-American president. He has done so with grace, humor, and intelligence. He is missed.
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: My grandmother, Ruthie Mae Jones
  • Sherry Casey, Operations and Administration Manager: Muhammad Ali
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: Maya Angelou – She is an incredibly gifted and talented individual and she never let racial, gender, or other forms of discrimination and bias stop her from sharing her gift with the world.
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: Muhammad Ali – He broke barriers and held fast to his moral code, in the face of adversity.
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: My mother – because of everything.
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: Dr. Martin Luther King – He was a wildly brave man who acted on his beliefs and gave his life for those beliefs.
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: Septima Clark – She inspired those who we think of as inspirational civil rights leaders. She believed so strongly in literacy and in the rights, but also responsibilities, of informed citizenship. Even when she was afraid, and rightly so, she did things because it was the courageous and right thing to do. She was known for a way of listening and talking with people who made them feel whole and important. She had principles, but she changed and grew as she had new experiences; I admire that quality. Because shew as a woman in the movement, she was allowed no power and her role was always downplayed. She wasn’t shy about pointing that out and became a feminist later in life, pointing out that sexism was “one of the weaknesses of the civil rights movement.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: Maya Angelou – her words will forever inspire and influence generations of people.
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: I am incredibly inspired by Sarah Breedlove, a.k.a. Madam C.J. Walker. During the 1890s, she became a self-made millionaire. That’s right – a millionaire – in the 1890s!  She created hair care products, built her brand by cultivating a team of 40,000 brand ambassadors, and marketed and sold her products door-to-door. To this day – 134 years later – you can still buy her successful products. She was rightfully deemed a “marketing magician” as she paved the way for marketing professionals throughout history. She shared her success by offering sizable donations to the YMCA and other organizations. She’s just incredible.
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: Jackie Robinson – He broke the baseball color line.

Who inspires you the most? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Moving Forward: Ways to Stay Engaged in Human Trafficking Awareness All Year Long

Written by: Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist, National Safe Place Network

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As National Human Trafficking Awareness Month draws to a close, I want to take a moment to thank each and every one of you who have engaged in the important work of awareness. Whether you have shared your knowledge and expertise or taken time to learn something new this month, thank you. After a month of efforts focused on awareness, you may be looking forward to some respite from the problem of human trafficking. Alternatively, you may be eager to learn more and to take action. Wherever you are, I encourage you to stay engaged in some capacity. Your community, region, state, and nation need you.

Here are some simple ways you can stay engaged all year long:

  1. Share what you know. Start a conversation. You won’t have all of the answers…that’s okay!
  2. Contact your local, state, and federal representatives. Share your concern about human trafficking. Ask them what they are doing to combat human trafficking in your community, state, and nation, and world. Request their continued support to fight human trafficking and meet the comprehensive needs of survivors. To find out who your representatives are, click here.
  3. Save the National Human Trafficking Hotline Number in your phone: 1-888-373-7888. This hotline can be used to report a tip or to request services.
  4. Volunteer with organizations combatting human trafficking. To locate organizations in your community, check out the National Human Trafficking Referral Directory.
  5. Do you travel? If so, download the TraffickCam App on your smartphone. You can upload pictures of your hotel room to a database used by investigators to determine where traffickers are committing their crimes.
  6. Be an informed and ethical consumer. Check out Made in a Free World for a growing list of companies that are committed to freedom and ethical business practices.
  7. Donate to National Safe Place Network or other organizations committed to meeting the needs of survivors while creating a world in which human trafficking cannot exist. Click here to donate to NSPN! We cannot do what we do without your support.

“Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery, but nothing will ever happen until we are.” – Gary Haugen

Policy Advocacy and Human Trafficking

Written by: Eric Masten, Director of Public Policy, National Network for Youth

Recently, former-President Obama proclaimed January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Unfortunately, human trafficking still occurs throughout our country, and youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are particularly susceptible to becoming victims of trafficking. Throughout the country, the National Network for Youth’s members, funded through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) provide support and assistance to runaway or homeless youth who are particularly at risk of being victims of either sex or labor trafficking.

Many factors contribute to the overall number of homeless youth each year, but common reasons are family dysfunction, exiting the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and sexual abuse. Youth who have been victims of abuse are more likely to exchange sex for basic necessities that they lack. A 2016 study from the Administration on Children and Families’ Family and Youth Services Bureau noted that nearly one-quarter of participants (24.1%) exchanged sex for money, 27.5% exchanged sex for shelter, and other participants exchanged sex for other basic needs such as food or protection.

Homeless youth are also vulnerable to labor trafficking because the traffickers promise them what they do not have – food, housing and employment. In a survey conducted with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, of the homeless youth providers that screened for child labor trafficking, each program had identified at least one labor trafficked youth.

Fortunately, RHYA funded programs have experience providing youth at risk of being trafficked with a safe place to stay and offer services to survivors of trafficking to help them heal from the trauma they have faced. Street Outreach Programs help 25,000 youth find shelter each year. In particular, Street Outreach Programs work closely with other organizations that work to protect and treat young people who have been or are at risk of sexual abuse or exploitation. Basic Center Programs and Transitional Living Programs prevent vulnerable youth from becoming victims of human trafficking by providing them with a safe place to stay, crisis interventions services and meeting their basic needs.

RHYA, legislation that is vital in helping to prevent and support youth and young adults who are vulnerable to trafficking because they are experiencing homelessness, is now due to be reauthorized. More than 50 national organizations have come together as part of the National Coalition for Homeless Youth to support reauthorizing RHYA by passing the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. With a strong history of bipartisan support, this legislation will ensure that providers throughout the country continue to provide its crucial programs that support youth who are, or are at risk of, experiencing homelessness and potentially being trafficked.

Visit the National Network for Youth’s webpage to learn more about the intersection between human trafficking and runaway and homeless youth.

Cultural Competence and Meeting the Needs of Human Trafficking Survivors

Written by: Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist, National Safe Place Network & RHYTTAC

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Our goal is to raise awareness with the ultimate goal of preventing trafficking, meeting the needs of survivors, and creating a world in which trafficking and exploitation cannot thrive. Earlier this month, we emphasized the importance of talking about trafficking in an accurate and honest manner, rather than feeding the sensationalism that often surrounds the national and even global discourse. Last week, we continued our quest for awareness by highlighting the many myths that exist in our understanding of trafficking and offered a more realistic picture of what trafficking really looks like.

Today’s topic is cultural competence. When you hear the word “competent,” what thoughts come to mind? Knowledge? Ability? Mastery? Understanding? Given the variety of cultures and subcultures represented in America today, how can we possibly provide services in a culturally competent manner to any and all youth or young adults who request our help? Is it even possible? What does it mean to be competent in someone else’s culture? Is there an element of cultural competence that suggests membership in a culture is a mandatory pre-requisite for competence? What are the implications of cultural incompetence? How much damage are we doing by practicing in such a way that does not expressly honor and include culture?

We know that trafficking isn’t limited to young, white females who are snatched off of the street. We know that trafficking can affect anyone, and research suggests some populations are disproportionately vulnerable. We ourselves may identify with a minority or marginalized culture, or we may belong to one or more of the dominant cultural identities, such as male, white, or cisgender.

Additionally, belonging to a specific culture does not mean that every member of that culture shares an identical experience. There are a multitude of individual experiences within a specific culture and we must be careful not to draw assumptions of a survivor’s individual experience based on cultural identity.

I believe that cultural competence is a nice goal, but nearly impossible. After all, I find myself bumbling around from time to time within my own world. How can I possibly gain enough knowledge and experience to be competent in any number of other cultures to which clients belong?

Just the other day, I had an experience with a respected colleague in which I unintentionally expressed some thoughts in such a way that screamed not competent. I didn’t intend any harm or judgment, but out of a conscious attempt to be culturally competent, I was unable to articulate clearly and the result was a jumble of words and thoughts that were anything but. What if that had been a client? What irreparable harm might have been done? If you are honest with yourself, I imagine you have had a similar experience at some point in your life.

So, what do we do? If cultural competence is important, necessary even, and also nearly impossible to achieve, how do we approach our practice? Do we just concede defeat and do the best we can otherwise? Do we keep fighting the good fight, so to speak, and seek out professional development and training opportunities in cultural competence and try to learn everything we can?

As one of my mentors wisely taught me, the answer is Both, And. We cannot comprehensively meet the needs of trafficking survivors without including and honoring their various cultural identities and the implications that culture will have on their trafficking experience and their ability to heal. No amount of therapy, support, or referrals can be beneficial if culture is not accounted for. Alternatively, it simply is not possible for any one service provider to achieve even a basic level of competence in the infinite cultural identities that could be encountered in practice with survivors. If we attempt to do this, survivors will see through it and realize that our perceived competence is really just a collection of facts that may or may not reflect an understanding of their experience.

Rather than concede defeat, however, I believe we should do everything we can to honor and include culture in our services while also acknowledging that we will never be experts in cultural identities that are not our own. Being real about our lack of competence lends credibility to our practice and allows space for survivors to teach us. No matter how much training and expertise you have, you will say or do something at some point in your work with survivors that shines a spotlight on your lack of cultural understanding. When this happens, own it. Self-reflect. Acknowledge your misstep and use it as an opportunity to learn. Perhaps cultural competence is not really competence at all, but instead an honest confession of incompetence coupled with genuine empathy.

For more information on cultural competence, please see the following resources:

General

DiversityRx – This is a resource on Cultural Competency Training focusing on healthcare but with broader applications.

National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) – The NCCC is part of the Center for Child and Human Development at Georgetown University and offers a variety of resources.

Child Welfare Information Gateway – A variety of resources on cultural competence in working with children and youth is provided here.

RHY Grantees

RHYTTAC Webinars – Click here to access the following webinars via RHYTTAC’s eLearning site.

HTR3 Understanding Cultural Competence

Disproportionality and Cultural Proficiency

Raising the Bar: Building and Strengthening Linkages and Supports for Native Youth in RHY Programs

The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys, Adolescent Males, and Trans Youth

Cultural Competency in Services to RHY

Serving African American Youth

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Myths and Misconceptions: Human Trafficking Doesn’t Happen in My Community – Part I

Written by: Valerie Douglas, Director of Counseling & RHY Services, The Center for Youth Services, Inc.

I’m a big Liam Neeson fan. I mean seriously, I love him in everything from Star Wars to Love Actually to Rob Roy – even as the voice of Aslan the Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia! However, if I dare to so much as mention his name to a colleague of mine, she rolls her eyes and sighs heavily. I think she’s being incredibly unfair, because her disdain is all based on one movie – Taken.

You see, my colleague, Nicole Thomson, is a trauma therapist who has been working with survivors of human trafficking for over 15 years. When she first started her work in the Bronx, New York State was still arresting 11 year olds as “child prostitutes.” Thankfully, we have come a long way from those dark, misinformed days, but we still come up against many myths and misconceptions about human trafficking – like those seen in Taken.

Nicole’s frustration is that the Taken films perpetuate some lingering myths: that trafficking victims* are well-off, young, white, suburban women abducted off the street by strangers and held captive on secret yachts. Now, this isn’t to say that stranger abduction doesn’t occur, or that young, white, suburban women aren’t trafficked, or even that there are no secret yachts! What irritates her is that there is such little representation of actual trafficking in the media and the depictions of it that do come through only show a tiny sliver of who is being trafficked and who is a “real victim.” Nicole and I provide training on trauma and trafficking to a broad range of people, including law enforcement, child welfare workers, teachers, community advocates, and youth-service providers. Believe me when I say that we have heard many misconceptions. We have found that the myths about trafficking fall mainly into two ends of the “victim/not a victim” spectrum.

On one end is the portrait of a “true victim,” like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken- a young woman kidnapped while out of the country on vacation.  Yes, stranger abduction is something that happens, but the data and research on the commercial sexual exploitation of minors describes a very different picture for the vast majority of victims. What we know is that most young people who are targeted knew their trafficker prior to the onset of exploitation. They may have met them online or out in the community.   In some cases, they find them in their own homes. Yes, a child can be trafficked by a parent or guardian – say for drugs or to pay the rent.  It is also not unlikely that they love their trafficker, or consider them a source of support and affection. Much like child molestation, children are more likely to know their perpetrator vs. being picked up by a stranger on the street.

Unfortunately, the “stranger” myth is given more life by well-meaning advocates trying to raise awareness with calls to action to address human trafficking, often using imagery and stories that more closely resemble Taken then reality. Child Welfare’s own data tells us that youth involved with foster care, child protective services, the juvenile justice system, or with a history of running away are the most vulnerable to being targeted by traffickers. Most minor victims of commercial sexual exploitation/trafficking are disconnected from supportive families and are what some call “systems kids.” Traffickers know that it is easier to groom and exploit a youth who already mistrusts the adults and agencies that say they will help them.

This swings us to the other end of the misconception spectrum. This end does not see the trafficked youth as a victim, but as a criminal or a manipulator, or, sadly, a youth beyond hope of “saving.” Despite progress in educating the public about human trafficking, there are some deep-rooted beliefs that trading sex for money, drugs, or a place to stay is a choice that can always be avoided; that somehow, the youth is to blame. It doesn’t help that many youth are not grateful when “rescued” and are not interested in yet another service provider controlling their lives. The reality of these young peoples’ lives, and reactions adults receive when trying to help, means many providers/systems/adults get frustrated and give up trying to engage.

It is also not uncommon to hear folks argue that since the youth committed unlawful acts, or were paid for their services, that they are not a victim. If the youth wasn’t locked up on that secret yacht, but out in the community, perhaps even going to school, the suspicion of their victim status becomes even greater.  It can take time and patience to educate people about trauma bonds and the abusive relationship a youth may have with their trafficker.  This relationship often resembles what we see in domestic violence. During trainings, Nicole and I will ask people to reflect on what they know about how difficult (and dangerous!) it is for a domestic violence victim to leave their abuser/partner. We ask them to keep that in mind when working with a youth who is being controlled by, or, in a relationship with, a trafficker. Much like domestic violence, it can be hard for those of us on the outside looking in to understand what the ties are that keep the victim from “escaping”, and to offer unconditional support through trauma-informed services.

Ultimately, the biggest myth of all is that this is something new in our society. As long as there have been vulnerable young people, there have been predatory adults exploiting them. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be done. It means that we need to respond to youth in crisis in ways that meet their needs, and we need to examine how our “helping” systems can do better to reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen young peoples’ connections to healthy, supportive family and community.

After all, we can’t all have Liam Neeson for a dad.

(*Please note that my use of the label “victim” is purely for the context of this discussion. Many young people who have experienced trafficking prefer “survivor” and some prefer no label at all.)