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Yearlong Sexual Assault Awareness


April was National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)!


Tri-Valley Haven was busy with prevention education presentations at local schools, at our Candlelight March in Livermore and raising money for our shelter for those who have experienced interpersonal violence at our Sweat for the Shelter event.  While April is the month is dedicated to raising public awareness about rape and sexual

violence, it should not be the only time that these issues are discussed.

Here are some facts about sexual assault:

Sexual assault involves any form of unwanted sexual activity including, but not limited to rape, marital rape, sex trafficking, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, incest, forcing to watch pornography, and denying the use of contraception.  Pervasive and indiscriminate, sexual assault affects people in all communities regardless of age, gender, ethnic background, religion, culture, and socioeconomic status.  One in five women in the United States has been raped in her lifetime[1].  If you are a survivor of sexual assault, it is important to know that you are not alone.

To better understand sexual assault, it is helpful to learn what it is not.  Many myths persist regarding sexual assault.  A common one is that women lie about being raped for attention or to seek revenge.  False reports occur only 2-10 percent of the time; in fact, 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police[2].  That holds true for a variety of reasons such as having a fear of not being believed, fear of being blamed, fear of retaliation, and a distrust of law enforcement.  Reporting has many pros and cons that a trained counselor can discuss with a survivor to help the survivor make the choice that they feel is most right for them. Some benefits of reporting is that it can help abuse go on the record and it can help establish a pattern of behavior committed by the perpetrator.  Since many rapists are repeat offenders and aren’t usually charged or convicted the first time, having such information on record can help substantiate future reports of sexual assault against the perpetrator.  Another pro is that California law entitles survivors of sexual assault to an advocate.  Once a report is made, a Sexual Assault Advocate is immediately dispatched to provide support to the survivor through the emotional, medical, and legal process following an assault. However, at Tri-Valley Haven, we support survivors whether or not they want to report the assault to law enforcement, we believe it is a survivor’s choice, and survivors can still receive our advocacy services and get support without ever reporting (unless in circumstances where we are mandated to report abuse by law).


Tri-Valley Haven is committed to building a world without violence.  The Rape Crisis Center (RCC) at the Haven offers a variety of supportive services such as a 24-hour crisis line, advocacy, support groups, individual counseling, information and aid to friends and family.  The RCC strongly believes in prevention through education and offers community classes to local schools, workplaces, neighborhood organizations, and places of worship.  The Haven also hosts self-defense workshops for women and girls throughout the year at Las Positas College.

Through a collective effort by the Haven, the community, and you, we can create homes safe from abuse, a more peaceful society, and a world free of violence.  For more information on any of the Haven’s services or how to get involved, please visit our website at www.trivalleyhaven.org.

Please join Tri-Valley Haven on May 16th:
LunaFest Film Festival in Livermore.  This event is a nationally touring film festival that features award-winning short films by, for, and about women.  The evening starts with a VIP reception at Zephyr Grill with food and drinks beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by films and snacks at 7 p.m.  If you wish to attend the VIP reception get your tickets early as the VIP is always a sell out!  General Admission with movie snacks and films will begin at 7 p.m.  Purchase tickets at:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lunafest-livermore-ca-tickets-55413712907

[1] Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J. & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2] National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2012). False Reporting Overview. Retrieved from https://www.nsvrc.org/publications/false-reporting-overview


This blog post was written by TVH staff member Aubrey. Aubrey is our PREA Coordinator at Tri-Valley Haven who heads our services at Santa Rita Jail under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org


Awareness of Teen Dating Violence on #TDVAM

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Tri-Valley Haven aspires and works toward, “protecting those in need, helping them to grow again, and seeking to build a more peaceful society.” So, naturally, we want to draw attention to issues and topics that related to those values. For those of you that don’t know, February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month! Teen Dating Violence Month (sometimes called TDVAM) is a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships and promote programs that prevent it. One way that Tri-Valley Haven contributes to this noble effort, is by educating the youth in our community about healthy relationships, as well as unhealthy relationships, through a Prevention Education program.

The Prevention Education team is a diverse staff of Tri-Valley Haven employees that reach out to local middle schools and high schools to provide a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond talking about bullying and peer pressure. The Prevention Education team, through various presentations, activities, videos and reading materials, takes special care to inform students and young adults about the more-than-alarming reality of Teen DV, and just how relevant knowing what Teen DV is, looks like and how to get help really is.

Teen Dating Violence is defined, according to the CDC, as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional aggression within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.

Dating violence is more common than many people think. One in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults. And, nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors! When the Prevention Education team presents these statistics to students and young adults, the common reaction is disbelief and overall shock. The truth is, these numbers are only a snapshot representation of cases that have been reported. So many cases go unreported, and the TVH Prevention Education team spends a lot of time discussing the reasons teens and young adults don’t report or leave an abusive relationship.

What are the risk factors for teen dating violence?

Teens receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults, and the media. All too often these examples suggest that violence in a relationship is normal, but violence is NEVER acceptable! Violence is related to certain risk factors. The risk of having unhealthy relationships increases for teens who:

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  • Believe that dating violence is acceptable
  • Are depressed, anxious, or have other symptoms of trauma
  • Display aggression towards peers or display other aggressive behaviors
  • Use drugs or illegal substances
  • Engage in early sexual activity and have multiple sexual partners
  • Have a friend involved in teen dating violence
  • Have conflicts with a partner
  • Witness or experience violence in the home

What are the consequences of teen dating violence?

Healthy relationship behaviors can have a positive effect on a teen’s emotional development. Unhealthy, abusive, or violent relationships can have short- and long-term negative effects on a developing teen. Youth who experience dating violence are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
  • Exhibit antisocial behaviors
  • Think about suicide or attempt suicideScreen Shot 2019-02-12 at 18.27.00

Additionally, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

Communicating with your partner, managing uncomfortable emotions like anger and jealousy, and treating others with respect are a few ways to keep relationships healthy and nonviolent. Dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations like Tri-Valley Haven, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.

So, from all of us here at Tri-Valley Haven, we invite you to share the power your hands have to create meaningful relationships, raise awareness and educate others. Remember, everyone has a hand in ending dating violence! Help us spread awareness and stop dating abuse before it starts!


Tri-Valley Haven






Teen DV Month | Loveisrespect.org


Teen Dating Violence|Intimate Partner Violence|Violence Preventtion|Injury Center|CDC


This blog post was written by TVH staff member Kelly. Kelly is a Preventionist and Sexual Assault Advocate at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org


Human Sexual Trafficking: A Local and Global Issue


When we hear the phrase “human trafficking,” it’s easy to think of it as an abstract act that doesn’t occur near us. Human trafficking is a highly organized crime that is unfortunately prevalent in California. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s Ranking of 100 Most Populous U.S. Cities, five California cities are ranked in the top 25: Los Angeles is second, San Diego came in at eleventh, San Francisco followed at twelfth, Sacramento was close at thirteenth, and Oakland fell at twenty fourth1. As an agency in the Tri-Valley area, these cities are close to home but they are not the only ones affected. The Tri-Valley is also a common place for human trafficking and trafficking in the Tri-Valley looks much different than it does in those other cities.

Women, pain, closeup.

As there is a lower population in the Tri-Valley compared to the cities mentioned above, the trafficking is less visible to the naked eye, but it still exists in high numbers. There is no common street where trafficking happens in the Tri-Valley (as there is in Oakland); here, it is kept more private: moved to the internet, parlors, salons, restaurants, and other businesses. Adults and kids are recruited at their schools, through other kids, on social media, or at local hangouts. Our own staff have accompanied police on stings at local restaurants and have also seen salons and parlors suspected to be fronts for trafficking. Our staff has also been sent to local Tri-Valley high schools to provide counseling and resources to teens who were being recruited by other teens or who were trafficked themselves.

Before we move forward, we all need to understand the definition of human trafficking, because it truly is modern-day slavery. It involves exploiting an individual through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor, commercial sex, or both. Human trafficking is an epidemic in California and many juvenile victims are members of our communities. A teacher in Contra Costa County recently shared that a storefront six blocks from the high school she works at was shut down due to human trafficking2.


As one might suspect, it is easier to manipulate/groom a child and by the time they become an adult, they are broken down and dependent on their trafficker. Once the trafficker gets into their mind, it’s easy for them to maintain control, similar to a domestic abuser. We are seeing an increase in predators using technology and social media to identify a potential victim’s vulnerabilities or weaknesses in order to exploit them for personal gain. Technology also allows the trafficker to keep constant tabs on their victim.

The state of California recently decided that our youth needs to be educated and the Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act (AB 1227) was passed in 2017, which requires all public schools to order education and training about human trafficking to both staff and students, with an emphasis on identification and prevention. I am proud to say California is the first state in the nation to adopt such a mandate and we hope to see other states follow suit.

Tri-Valley Haven has an Anti-Sexual Trafficking Program to support sexual trafficking survivors. We strive to bring community awareness, introduce education into the community, and provide support and stability to survivors of trafficking.

If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma due to sexual trafficking, Tri-Valley Haven’s program offers housing (upon availability), a restraining order clinic, counseling services, advocacy services, and access to our food pantry. For more information about these services, call us at (925) 449-5845, or if you are in crisis, our crisis line is (800)884-8119.

1. National Human Trafficking Hotline. Ranking of 100 Most Populous U.S. Cities (2017).
2. California Educators. A Vile Epidemic: Sex Trafficking (2018).

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 09.58.59Megan is the Sexual Assault Lead Advocate at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

The Importance of Domestic Violence Awareness & Action Year-Round

While Tri-Valley Haven strives all year long to raise awareness and be strong advocates against domestic violence, special attention is given to the topic every October as it is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. JPG-DVAM.jpg

There is truth in numbers. Almost 20 people per minute are abused by a partner in the United States, meaning more than 10 million people per year. In fact, on a usual day, more than 20,000 calls are made to domestic violence hotlines in the U.S. alone. One in four women and one in seven men have  been the victims of severe physical violence from a partner in their lifetime and, even more concerning is that one in five children are exposed to domestic violence each year with 90% of these children witnessing and encountering the violence themselves.

Silence does not end the violence! Every October on the first Saturday, Tri-Valley Haven hosts the Pace for Peace, a 5K/10K walk-run in Livermore.  This year’s event was held on October 6th and over 200 community and staff members participated, raising essential funds to support the programs that allow Tri-Valley Haven to continue to provide a multitude of services, support and awareness for Domestic Violence and more.

Tri-Valley Haven makes a staunch effort to connect with our community and over the years, events like Pace for Peace, as well as our annual Candlelight March which will be held on October 18th at 7:00 p.m. We will meet at Civic Park at Main Street and Bernal in Pleasanton. Candles and glow sticks will be provided to participants. We will march to the old Pleasanton Hotel and back with our Tri-Valley Haven banner, providing handouts with our contact information for interested onlookers. Again, please join us and encourage others to further support Tri-Valley Haven as we strive to create a world without violence.



  1. NCADV | National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Ncadv.org, https://ncadv.org/statistics


If you or someone you know is struggling in healing from trauma due to sexual assault, sexual trafficking, or domestic violence, Tri-Valley Haven offers counseling and support groups to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. To make your first appointment or find out more about the groups, please call us at (925) 449-5845


Raising Awareness about Sexual Assault this SAAM

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) 

We know that everyone has something that they’re passionate about, and our passion is building a world without violence. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence that is occurring in communities all around the world (including your own), while also offering tools and resources on how to prevent this kind of violence.


There is a widely accepted misconception that sexual assault is a female issue, but I assure you that is inaccurate. Violence does not discriminate. 1 in every 6 women and 1 in every 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime1.  Sexual assault is a public issue that affects women, men, children, families, and communities.

Survivors of sexual assault experience a widespread of reactions. Short term effects can be feelings of guilt, shame, fear, shock, and isolation. Long term struggles may include PTSD, depression, eating disorders, and the potential for STIs and/or pregnancy2. However, healing is possible when support is available!

We, at the Haven, work tirelessly to support survivors in any manner that we can. Counseling services, support groups, advocacy, and a 24/7 crisis line (1-800-884-8119) are offered, in addition to our efforts to prevent sexual assault and create awareness in our community. We are strong when we are united, and together is how we eradicate violence.

To put things in perspective: every 98 seconds someone in the United States is assaulted. By the time you’ve finished reading this blog, think of how many people have been affected2
You can help support survivors and contribute to prevention efforts for sexual assault!


If you’d like to get involved with us, here’s what we’ve got going on this month:

  • April 7th: Annual Spring Pace for Peace 5k/10k through Livermore vineyards. If you’d like to participate as a runner, sign up here. If you’d like to volunteer for this event, ask for Lynne at (925)449-5845.
  • April 20th: Candelight March in downtown Livermore. This event is free to attend and will start at 7:00pm at Panama Red Coffee.
  • April 25th: Denim Day! Denim Day is a day when community members, survivors, caregivers, students, elected officials, and businesses wear denim as a visible statement in support of survivors and against misconceptions about sexual assault.
  • April 25th: LunaFest films at the Vine Cinemas. It began as a traveling film festival celebrating, showcasing, and championing women in film. They have created a platform for women’s untold stories and all proceeds from this showing of LunaFest go to benefit Tri-Valley Haven.

If you or someone you know is struggling in healing from trauma due to sexual assault, sexual trafficking, or domestic violence, Tri-Valley Haven offers counseling and support groups to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. To make your first appointment or find out more about the groups, please call us at (925) 449-5845.

1. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Socio-emotional Impact of Violent Crime (2014).

  1. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014 (2015).


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Megan is a Sexual Assault Advocate and Preventionist at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

Does Violence Occur in Teenage Relationships?

It’s almost a universal consensus that teenage years are rough…

Perhaps this statement prompted you to reflect back on your own middle and high school years, or maybe you’re walking through this stage in your life right now. As if battling hormones, discovering who you are, and transitioning to adulthood aren’t enough, teen dating violence is also something to be cognizant of.

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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Sometimes known as TDVAM, it is a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen relationships, in addition to promoting programs thatprevent it from happening.  One in in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults1.

We at the Haven are staunch believers that educating our younger generations will help change the culture around dating violence. Because of this, our prevention team reaches out to local middle and high schools in the area to schedule presentations discussing healthy relationships and bystander intervention. This school year, the prevention team has scheduled 36 days of presentations, which comes out to roughly 3,000 students learning this information.

It is known that 3 in 4 parents have never had a conversation with their children about domestic violence2. Many times, our presentations are the first time that a student is being introduced to these topics from an educational standpoint; some of them have witnessed abuse or been victims of it themselves, but haven’t been exposed to qualities of an unhealthy relationship or ways that they can take action if they see something happening.

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Silence will not protect you or our children. We urge you to have these discussions within 
your family and with people around you. Only by continuous conversations and efforts can  we shift the stigma around dating violence and make it universally unacceptable.


How can you support our prevention efforts?

  • Talk with your teens. Educate you and your children about healthy relationships and personal boundaries. Teen Dating Abuse: How To Help My Child from Love is Respect and Bullying: Help Your Child Recognize the Signs of Bullying from National Bullying Prevention are great starting places!
  • Request a presentation. If you work with a group of teens, consider scheduling a presentation for your club, after-school program, religious youth group or community group! Contact our prevention educators at (925) 667-2727.
  • Donate to our Prevention Education Program. We currently produce presentations to some local Tri-Valley area middle and high schools. We hope to continue to expand our program to include all Tri-Valley middle and high schools. You can make help make this a reality by donating to our prevention efforts.


1. Love is Respect. (February 2018). Teen DV Month 2018. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/teendvmonth/
2. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. (2017). Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Retrieved from https://nrcdv.org/dvam/tdvam


We, at the Haven, are staunch believers that educating our younger generations will lead to a change in culture, and hopefully one day will eradicate the grave need for these types of discussions.

Dating violence is more common than one might think.

We strive to empower young people to build healthy relationships


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Megan is a Sexual Assault Advocate and Preventionist at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org




Why Do We Run?

I ran track one year in school and hated every second of it. The strides it took to make it over the finish line appeared to be endless and the grueling way we had to push ourselves to shave a second or two off our previous time seemed like a cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, I am not even sure why I signed up in the first place…

Fast forward to working at Tri-Valley Haven and I now am a part of an annual event called Pace for Peace that, this year, was held on October 14th. People voluntarily signed up to run/walk a 5k or 10k through the winding Livermore Wine Country. I internally scoffed at the insanity until I read an anonymous quote about why people run and something clicked inside. Aside from the obvious health benefits that exercise can bring, running is a raw form of freedom. All that is required is a good pair of shoes.
Pace 2017

Tri-Valley Haven is dedicated to building a world without violence. What would that look like? I cannot say with certainty, but I can imagine it would be a place where everyone felt freedom: freedom to express who they are, freedom in feeling safe, freedom in being secure.
Pace 1 2017.jpgTo answer my own question, why do we run? I can’t answer that for everyone, but I can share that 250 runners showed up to the Pace for Peace and 60 volunteers and staff worked to make the event a success. That’s 310 people who believe in the Haven’s cause of ending violence and pursuing freedom and that is why they ran that chilly, beautiful Saturday morning.


Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 09.58.59Megan is a Sexual Assault Advocate and Preventionist at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

The Many Forms of Bullying National Bullying Prevention Month

Bullying someone does not only mean pushing them down, or knocking their books off their desk. Bullying includes verbal threats, insults, or excluding someone.

In second grade I was bullied for being a Latina. The majority of my classmates were Caucasian so I stood out with my dark hair and tan skin. I will never forget the day when one of my classmates picked up a book in the library with an African American girl on the cover and told me that I looked like her. The little girl on the book was beautiful, but she and I did not look the same. It was painful to be bullied because I didn’t look like the bully and her friends. I am now 23 years old and remember this day vividly, not because I was told that I look African American but because I was bullied for being myself.


1 out of every 5 students report being bullied. National Bullying Prevention Month is a nationwide campaign which began in October 2006. The campaign held every October unites communities around the world to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. This campaign has grown from an initial week-long event to a worldwide effort with thousands of individuals participating in multiple activities throughout October. Hundreds of schools, major corporations, and many celebrities have joined the movement. Take action and show that you care about kids being safe at school, while online, and in the community.

Tri-Valley Haven participates in National Bullying Prevention Month by providing anti-bullying education to middle and high schools throughout the Tri-Valley. Tri-Valley Haven is a domestic violence, sexual assault, and homeless services agency. Our mission is creating homes free from abuse. Prevention is key to this mission. To find out more abour the Haven please see our website:www.trivalleyhaven.org .


13567387_1370839872944317_6997413181642019213_n.jpgThis blog post was written by TVH Preventionist, Nicole. For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

Remembering Survivors of Sexual Assault during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

The month of September is devoted to raising awareness about the prevalence, causes, treatments, and risk factors for suicide in order to aid in suicide prevention. This month, Tri-Valley Haven has been thinking of the many survivors of sexual assault that do not survive suicide. Too many lives are taken by suicide each year. This is a time to support those affected by suicide and to raise awareness. There has been an important correlation made between sexual assault survivors and suicide that the public is often unaware of.

Depression can often occur as a result of stress, hurt, or trauma. Experiencing trauma puts one at higher risk for anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It is normal for sexual assault survivors to struggle with depression and it is known that untreated depression is a large cause for suicide. Approximately 33% of survivors have had a suicidal thought and about 13% of survivors will attempt suicide(1).

About 44,000 Americans die by suicide each year(2). Many of those individuals are survivors of sexual assault. The existing statistics about the prevalence of sexual assault, suicide, and suicides by sexual assault survivors are believed to be higher than reported, because it can be difficult for people to share these experiences with groups who collect data. Many never report their assault or never do to authorities that collect data.

The stigma around suicide is much like the stigma around sexual assault. There is a stigma about seeking support, sharing your experiences, and reaching out for help.

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At Tri-Valley Haven we support individuals affected by sexual assault through empowerment and encouragement. We incorporate education and advocacy to aid in prevention of the cycle that feeds suicidal thoughts. It is important to have access to resources that address suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

If you or someone you know is struggling in healing from trauma due to sexual assault, sexual trafficking, or domestic violence, Tri-Valley Haven offers counseling and support groups to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. To make your first appointment or find out more about the groups, please call us at (925) 449-5845.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts trained crisis intervention counselors are available to receive crisis calls and give supportive counseling 24 hours a day, every day at the Alameda County 24-Hour Crisis Line 1-800- 309-2131. Translation is available in more than 140 languages. Teletype (TDD) services for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals is also available. You do not have to be in Alameda County to use this crisis line.

1. Caruso, K. (2017). Rape Victims Prone to Suicide. Retrieved from
http://www.suicide.org/rape-victims- prone-to- suicide.html
2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2015) Suicide Statistics. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide- statistics/
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Megan is a Sexual Assault Advocate and Preventionist at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

Breaking down Stigma: Commonly Held Misconceptions about Human Sexual Trafficking

January is human trafficking awareness month, a month dedicated to shedding lig4178c5d51465df87b04e8ca305288ec6.pnght on issues that victims and survivors face in order for our society to better advocate for and understand individuals affected by human trafficking.

Over the past few years, Tri-Valley Haven has been working to better support survivors of human sexual trafficking. This has involved collaborative meetings, trainings, webinars, presentations, and discussions with law enforcement, partnering agencies, district attorneys, advocates, volunteers, community members and more. Through our experiences in doing so, we have identified a few commonly held beliefs that can be very stigmatizing to individuals affected by trafficking. Below, you will find some of these beliefs and the truth behind them.
BELIEF: “Trafficking only happens to [insert a specific gender, ethnicity, or social class].”
TRUTH: This is a vast generalization. When looking at trafficking statistics, this misconception may appear to true. Victims of sexual trafficking are most often females. Victims are most often individuals of color. Exploiters (pimps) are most often individuals of color too. Victims and exploiters are most often from the lower socioeconomic stratas. However, further examination of this reveals the truth.

There are many males are victims of trafficking that are included in the statistical data. A reason women report more often than men may very well be because women are more affected, but, it may also be due to the stigma that surrounds being sexually exploited and being a male. Males are often harmed by the societal expectation and gender role that tells them they have to be tough, not show emotions, be strong, and be dominant, etc. It is believed that men report experiencing abuse report at a lower rate than women due to these stereotypes.

When comparing that to census data, one might see that there are large percentages of Caucasian individuals and wonder, why aren’t they as affected by trafficking? This is because of opportunity. Exploiters often choose their victims based on the accessible opportunities they face. Communities are often characterized by the racial groups that inhabit them. For example, if a person of Latino descent is living in a predominately Latino neighborhood, it is likely that their victims will be Latino (simply because Latinos are more accessible to them). Traffickers (the individual or party that obtains and puts a victim in contact with an exploiter) and purchasers (Johns, individuals receiving sexual services from a victim) have high rates of being individuals of Caucasian descent. This is believed to be influenced by finances, as Caucasian individuals often are of a higher socio-economic class. Every racial or ethnic group plays a role in sex trafficking, the role and level of involvement is what may vary among ethnicities. 

This also partly addresses the matter of social class. Individuals of higher social classes are more likely to be traffickers and purchasers, rather than exploiters. Being of a certain gender, social class, or ethnicity may increase your risk of being trafficked but sexual trafficking affects all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and genders.

BELIEF: “I would never let that happen to me.”
TRUTH: Statements like these can make a survivor feel inferior or ashamed for not being able to escape from sex trafficking sooner. No one can be sure of how they will react in a situation until it happens. Our flight or fight instincts also often lead individuals to freeze, which can prevent performing actions one might have planned in a moment of panic.  Victims of sex trafficking are often extensively groomed and conditioned in a manner that supports them being in the trafficking industry.  Many individuals do not feel in a strong state of mind to end the abuse due to this grooming. Grooming often involves exploiting an individual’s deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities to lower their self-esteem, self-worth, sense of self, confidence, and rational thinking. It can cause one to view the world in a distorted manner. Victims are also often told that they or their loved ones will be hurt or killed if they leave. One might be repeatedly told and start to believe that they deserve the life they have been forced into or that there is no one in the world that can or wants to help them. Having preexisting or developing mental health issues that impair judgment can also become a factor that makes a victim more vulnerable. Changing the phrase to “I would hope that would never happen to me” reduces the stigma conveyed.

BELIEF: “There is no difference between sex trafficking and prostitution.”
TRUTH: The simplest explanation is that sex trafficking is involuntary. The victim was once forced or coerced. Prostitution is voluntary. A prostitute ideally does not work by force.

A sex trafficking victim’s circumstances most often involve working for an exploiter (a pimp). The exploiter will collect most or all of the money made by the victim. The individual is being forced, coerced, or defrauded into a sex act. It may appear to be prostitution but there is the often hidden component of force. Due to the age of consent being 18, any acts resembling prostitution by an individual under 18 is legally considered trafficking.

On the contrary, a prostitute may or may not work for an exploiter. Given the riskiness of working as a prostitute, often times a prostitute will join with other prostitutes and form an alliance for security. In these situations, money is distributed and schedules are shared, but the individuals involved are still in control of their decisions. In other situations a prostitute will have an exploiter for security reasons and protection from physical harm.  There is no force, coercion or defrauding in these situations.

BELIEF: “There are so many resources available to victims, why don’t they use them?”
TRUTH: While there are many resources for victims, the availability of resources and distribution of them is not always a process that is easy to navigate. Every program has some sort of limit to how many clients they can have at an agency or a shelter; funding often influences this.

Aside from issues of availability, victims often are not aware of the resources available. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses a lot of knowledge about community resources. People often do not know what resources are available until after they have suffered a lot. Grooming often involves making victims think no one can be trusted and that they will be ostracized or arrested for seeking help. The victim may also not be aware that what they are experiencing is trafficking, is illegal, or that they can get help. If one is being trafficked, they may also not have access to individuals or technology that they can receive information regarding resources from. Language barriers and mental health impairments often pose additional obstacles to acquiring information about support services.

This information is not meant to make anyone feel bad for having held these beliefs. It is stop-the-stigma-logounderstandable why one might think these things- it can be due to lack of exposure to trafficking survivors, lack of knowledge about the industry, repetition of a belief heard by a respected person, misinterpretation, unknown biases, etc. Not everyone works as an advocate or therapist or will even ever encounter a survivor firsthand. This type of information does not tend to be common knowledge. The purpose of this post is simply to bring awareness to the power our words can hold. The stigma that surrounds human trafficking prevents education from being spread. The stigma prevents individuals from creating a better life for themselves. Words or beliefs that perpetuate stigma can prevent individuals in need from seeking or gaining support.


Adriana is a Bilingual Sexual Assault Advocate and Human Trafficking Specialist at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

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