Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp collects donations for the Pledge to Stop Human Trafficking event in Fresno last month. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on February 19, 2019 - 12:15 PM
Written by Donald A. Promnitz

Debra Rush had personal reasons to collect donations at last month’s Pledge to Stop Human Trafficking in Fresno – even if it meant standing and marching in the freezing rain.

A survivor herself, Rush said that she’s familiar with “the depravity, the shame, the pain, the fear” and the anguish of those who fall victim. It’s motivated her to start Breaking the Chains, an organization dedicated rehabilitating others who have escaped or been rescued.

Now, she might be on the receiving end of federal funds to help in her fight.

Drafted by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act was signed by President Trump on Jan. 8. This bill will allocate $430 million to combat labor and sex trafficking over the course of four years. This funding would come in the form of written grants, which anti-trafficking organizations and law enforcement agencies could then apply for.

According to Rush, this opens up a major funding pool that spread out to all the major aspects of her cause – including education and advocacy, rehabilitation and law enforcement.

“In the past, a lot of federal and state funding has been limited to siloed services, or services that are very specific,” Rush said. “I truly believe that this money will allow them to build much more comprehensive and broadened [services].”

It could also mean good news for Daniel Foss, the founder of Overcoming Limitations through Integrity, Values and Empowerment (OLIVE). A lieutenant with the Madera Police Department, Foss saw the adverse effects of arresting people for prostitution, only for them to be released and back into the hands of their pimps. Law enforcement, he said, can only do so much.

He created OLIVE in response, and it obtained nonprofit status in 2016. With the full support and cooperation of the Madera Police Department, they work to get those in prostitution off the streets and into rehabilitation. According to Foss, the organization is growing, with two or three clients a month.

Nonetheless, Foss said that he isn’t sure if he will apply, as it may mean funding lost for another nonprofit in a better position to help. Instead, he’s opting to play it by ear and see where OLIVE is by the time the grants are being awarded.

“It’s a massive amount of money, but when you’re talking about nationwide, it can go pretty fast,” Foss said. “So if I do ask for some of the money, I’m going to make sure that I can use it to its full extent.”

From the law enforcement perspective, however, Foss said that the bill does mean better funding to one of the most important parts of combatting human trafficking – education and community awareness – especially to the warning signs of things like grooming or prostitution.

“We can’t be everywhere at once,” Foss said. “It’s much harder for us if people are living right next door to it and they have no idea what they’re living next door to. How would we ever know then?”

Regardless of how the money is allotted, Rush is optimistic about the future, adding that the government and the public have never been more involved in the fight.

“There’s definitely going to be just more opportunities to combat human trafficking,” Rush said. “And thus allowing us to cast a wider net.”

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