Community forum examines human trafficking in Nevada County and beyond | TheUnion.com

Community forum examines human trafficking in Nevada County and beyond

Holly Gibbs, pictured above in 1992, was 14 when she was forced into prostitution. Today, as an adult, Gibbs works for Dignity Health as a public speaker and educator on the perils of human trafficking.
Photo submitted by Holly Gibbs |

Know & Go

What: Community forum on human trafficking and public reception to display entries in the Good Women International’s Human Trafficking Awareness Poster Campaign

When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Sept. 19

Where: The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley

For more information, visit http://thecenterforthearts.org/good-womens-poster-campaign and http://www.goodwomen.org

At age 14, Holly Gibbs loved to hang out at the mall. She met a guy there — he was a little older, but that didn’t seem to matter. He lavished her with attention and she began to feel as though she’d met a real friend, maybe even a boyfriend. Home life was a struggle, so when her “special friend” suggested she run away with him from her small town in New Jersey to California, she agreed. After all, glamorous homes and talent agents awaited her on the West Coast, she was told.

But within hours of leaving her childhood home and middle school friends, Gibbs was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City. She was less than an hour from home, but completely unable to escape. Gibbs got lucky — after just 48 hours on the street, she was picked up by the cops.

“I was arrested by law enforcement officers, but they didn’t see me as a victim — suddenly I was a juvenile delinquent,” said Gibbs. “The experience was pretty negative. There was so much judgement on the part of the arresting officers. I was very affected by that. It took me a long time to overcome what had happened.”

Gibbs is now in her late 30s and has made it her life’s mission to share her story and educate others about the ubiquitous and insidious nature of human trafficking. It’s not just happening in developing countries or large American cities, she emphasizes. It’s prevalent in small town America as well. Now employed by Dignity Health, Gibbs will be among the speakers at a Sept. 19 event hosted by Good Women International, a Nevada County nonprofit organization promoting human trafficking education and prevention. Other speakers will include Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, District Attorney Cliff Newell, Grass Valley Mayor Jason Fouyer and Molly DeBrock, who is a program and prevention advocate at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition.

“We have had three clients within the last year in Nevada County who were pulled specifically from human trafficking incidents,” said DeBrock. “I think it’s safe to say we’ve just scratched the surface.”

Monday’s public event, which will take place at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, will also include a reception to honor the top three winners of Good Women International’s Human Trafficking Awareness Poster Campaign. The effort has been a push to unite and mobilize the community to reach out to local businesses and educate them on trafficking and the need for posting an awareness poster under California Senate Bill 1193.

According to the bill, certain mandated businesses must display a legally compliant and readily visible poster in a conspicuous location. The purpose of this poster is to raise awareness about victims of human trafficking and prevent future victims. It contains important contact information in various languages, said Joanna Britt, founder of Good Women International.

Businesses such as bars, adult or sexually oriented businesses, emergency rooms, massage parlors — and many other establishments likely to come in contact with traffickers or their victims — are included in this campaign. In other regions where the law of displaying posters is strictly enforced, the practice has helped law enforcement officers save enslaved individuals, added Britt. In association with the Nevada County Human Trafficking Task Force, Monday’s event is open to the public.

On Oct. 15, the winning poster will be duplicated and distributed by volunteers to Nevada County businesses that are mandated by the civil code to post anti-trafficking literature. The poster will be available free on Good Women International’s website.

“Trafficking exists at all different levels — it’s an issue that needs to be kept at the forefront,” said Newell. “There are the obvious situations where people are trapped in forced labor or sexual slavery in exchange for coming to the U.S. But others are also very good at hiding — we’ve seen people pressed into servitude in marijuana gardens. They’re hundreds of miles away from their families and told they’d better watch the garden because if they don’t, they’ll never get home, or someone will do something to their family. We’ve prosecuted several cases. Trafficking is a really heinous crime — many people are at a great risk of being taken advantage of. We are not exempt here.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.


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