WorldLink Student Reflects on Teen Gender Equity Conference

By WorldLink journalist Terra Giddens, University City High School

The Teen Gender Equity Conference at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) was an unforgettable and perspective-altering experience. Open only to high school students, the conference focused on three important issues: human trafficking, pay equity and sexual assault. It was a collaborative event hosted by the IPJ’s WorldLink program, Girls Give Back of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, Only With Consent and Run Women Run!

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More than 60 high school students addressed three pressing issues: pay equity, human trafficking, and sexual assault issues.

When I first arrived at the conference, I didn’t expect such an intense three hours. Although the facts that were shared were heartbreaking, they were realistic and I was truly motivated to make a difference. Guest speakers did not hesitate to provide all of the necessary information in order for us to make positive changes. Their goal was to create a drive within the audience to make an impact, and overall they succeeded.

For the first hour, we had the option to attend an Educational Breakout Session focused on human trafficking or pay equity. I selected the session on human trafficking led by Crystal Anthony, a clinical social worker who specializes in human trafficking. She immediately dove into the wounds and root causes of child labor and sexual exploitation, and shared with us a video called “America’s Daughters” that exposes the pain of trafficking victims. The cruelty of trafficking was illustrated in the video when a victim was described as a “walking corpse stained with the fingerprints of strangers.”

Anthony continued to convey the shocking reality of the situation through interactive activities. For instance, she had us consider real-life scenarios of girls as young as ten years old threatened into prostitution and immigrant children forced into intense labor. It was important to be aware of the fact that trafficking can take place across the border and in crime-ridden neighborhoods, but also in “nice” gated communities throughout San Diego.

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Students presented their stance on Assembly Bill 1051 on human trafficking to Katelyn Hailey, from the office of Senator Marty Block.

As we entered the second hour, students proceeded to an Advocacy Breakout Session in either human trafficking or pay equity. I attended the human trafficking advocacy session hosted by Katelyn Hailey, field representative for the office of Senator Marty Block. Hailey shared her views on how an individual can effectively make a difference and took us step-by-step through the process of talking to an elected official.

As a group, we put our purpose into action and worked closely with Hailey in creating a pitch in favor of Assembly Bill 1051, which “proposes to add human trafficking to the list of crimes used to enhance penalties for persons affiliated with a criminal street gang. The bill also creates a ‘safe school zone’ by increasing sentences for convictions related to human trafficking that occur within 1,000 feet of a school.” We derived important points about the assembly bill, and we used our knowledge on how to talk to elected officials to convey our position on the bill. The interactive and instructive atmosphere created during the Advocacy Breakout Sessions encompassed the most positive aspects of the conference. I felt more prepared to face and conquer the issues I am most passionate about.

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Representatives from USD’s Women’s Center shared great information and resources at the Teen Gender Equity Conference.

Finally, in the third hour, the entire conference delegation came together for one last interactive session focused on the realities of sexual assault, in particular on college campuses. The speakers, Jasmine Enriquez and Mike Friedman from Only With Consent, shared extremely deep and personal information about how serious these issues are in society. They spoke about real-life situations, therefore sparking awareness within the audience.

Enriquez and Friedman explained the importance of making sure there is consent between both partners before engaging in intimate activities, which helped student delegates possess a new sense of confidence and awareness. The effectiveness of this interactive session was mind-blowing in an incredibly positive way. If everyone in society had the opportunity to participate in similar sessions, we would live in a safer and more trusting world.

The Teen Gender Equity Conference was eye opening and informative, and it made a lasting impact on my life because I was surrounded by teenagers who were serious about the fight for a better future. Debbie Martinez, WorldLink program officer, said that youth participants would have the chance to “develop real plans of action.” These words rung true. I left the conference more passionate about making a difference and determined to create my own plan of action.

“Safe Bags” for Human Trafficking Survivors: Terra Giddens has since initiated a program through which people can donate items for “safe bags,” which are bags that contain items for survivors of human trafficking, such as clothes, blankets, and books. Through coordination with the program STARS (Surviving Together, Achieving and Reaching for Success) at San Diego Youth Services, the “safe bags” will be distributed to human trafficking survivors. For more information or to make a donation, email Terra at bags.safe@gmail.com.