County may fund effort to combat sex trafficking

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – A proposal to fund research and education on sex trafficking will be part of the Board of Supervisors’ upcoming budget deliberations.

The increasingly talked-about issue of human trafficking was discussed at the June 5 Board of Supervisors meeting as a draft of the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was presented.

During a public comment session, Lelehenia Du Bois, who chairs the Human Trafficking Committee of the county’s Human Rights Commission, requested $21,000 for a fund that would be managed by the Humboldt Area Foundation.

The funding would be used for gathering information and advancing education about local sex trafficking. She proposed the county’s cannabis excise tax revenue as a funding source.

Du Bois said that “Humboldt has a unique issue for being the epicenter of the drug war” and lacks “effective information” on human trafficking. Research and education that’s “based on our unique circumstances in Humboldt” is needed, she continued.

Du Bois read a letter from a former Humboldt State University student who has organized gatherings of local agencies that address “intimate partner violence.”

The letter states that during the July 2017 gathering, “The main conversations at the roundtable were about sex trafficking in Humboldt County.” The agencies field “frequent calls” asking for help and due to lack of resources, are “at a loss for ways to address the issue.”

The letter details the results of research on the prevalence of sex trafficking: From last October to November, there were 697 hotline calls to Humboldt Domestic Violence Services and 85 of them were from “survivors of sex trafficking,” a 15 percent increase from the previous year.

Seventy-two of the calls represented “ongoing sex trafficking cases.”

Sister Star of Sisters of the Valley, a Central Valley commune that takes a spiritual approach to medicinal cannabis production, related her childhood experience of being abused and exploited for profit.

She said that when she was seven years old and living in Weaverville, a woman who was a fellow Jehovah’s Witness arranged to take her to Eureka after talking with her mother about it.

Star said the woman gave her a drug-infused lollipop and took her to a hotel in the city.

“I was completely not able to talk or move and she basically handed me over to men who tied me up and sexually abused me if front of film – they filmed me and sold that,” she continued. “It is a problem and funding this could help children, women, anyone that has been touched with this kind of atrocity.”

Also during public comment, Mike Newman, a former Eureka City Councilmember, said his church is advancing an education effort, paying for a series of films sponsored by the Richmond Justice Initiative and showing them in schools.

“Prevention is a big thing that really needs to happen to educate our young people about the problems that we just heard about,” he continued, adding that sex trafficking is “very prevalent up here in Humboldt County.”

Board Ryan Sundberg said he supports the funding request.

He also responded to requests for funding transitional drug and alcohol recovery housing, asking that a dedicated fund be created for it.

County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen suggested that a county program supporting transitional housing would need to be created, which Sundberg described as a possibility.

Supervisor Rex Bohn chairs the Rural Counties Representatives of California advocacy group, which has provided $400,000 in funding for the Project Protect human trafficking education program.

He said that focused, coordinated funding is more effective than small, splintered funding pools.

Supervisors will discuss the proposals further during the county’s June 18 afternoon and evening public hearings on the budget.

Budget snapshot: The county’s $412 million budget represents a nine percent increase from the current fiscal year. The increase includes spending on capital projects, roads, cannabis planning and contributions to reserve and employee retirement funds.

Measure Z public safety sales tax revenue is estimated to be $11.5 million. Most of it will fund staffing and other ongoing costs that have been previously approved, with $4.5 million available for new allocations.

General Fund revenue from county area sales taxes is expected to increase by about $530,000 in the coming fiscal year. Costs will exceed income but as in previous budget years, much of the year-end balance from the current year will be carried forward to plug the gap.



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