Human Trafficking Advocate on Helping Survivors Feel Empowered & Prepare for the Workplace

This quarter we’ve been featuring changemakers who are positively impacting the lives of human trafficking victims and survivors. We talked with Sarai Smith-Mazariegos, co-founder of MISSSEY and CEO and founder of S.H.A.D.E., about how she uses her own experience to relate to child trafficking survivors; and Sian Taylor Gowan, founder and filmmaker of Red Scarf Films and producer of Surviving International Boulevard, about the filmmaking process for her film about human trafficking in Oakland, Calif. Following our film screening and panel, we caught up with Darian Eastman, director and youth employment specialist at Not for Sale, about how he’s helping human trafficking survivors regain confidence, feel empowered and prepare for the workplace.

Can you start by describing how you interact with human trafficking survivors, and the work you do at Not for Sale?

Not For Sale Bay Area is an organization that prepares disconnected youth affected by exploitation, or a related trauma, for work through the Bay Area’s booming industries. We provide job readiness, certifications, marketable skills training and hands-on work experience. I interact with youth on a daily basis, and my goal is to help them transition from exploitation to empowerment.

What made you interested in helping trafficking survivors?

To be perfectly honest, I never had an interest in working with trafficking survivors. I have been counseling and developing youth for about 10 years, so it was a natural process for me to join Not For Sale and assist survivors. It’s been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things I have accomplished in my life and still moving forward! I’m built for this. It’s a privilege for these young ladies to even trust me and allow me to help them. I’ll never take that for granted.

How do you empower survivors to live normal lives?

I empower survivors to live normal lives the same way you live your life normally — education, training and employment. It’s a step toward their healing process. Transitioning from street economy to a legit way of living requires a job that will support you. If it doesn’t, you can drift back into the life.

What are the most important takeaways you hope youth learn during your training?

I want them to learn hard and soft skills when it comes to the workplace. My goal is for them to have clear workplace expectations and be knowledgeable about how to deal with conflict in the workplace. I want them to feel confident and capable. The most important thing is choice. I want them to control their own future. They should feel like they can do anything and the sky’s the limit.

Can you share any stories of people you’ve worked with who have gone on to get great jobs and turn their lives around?

About a year and half ago, one of our trainees/survivors called us from the hospital because her exploiter had beaten her up and put her in the hospital while she was pregnant. Not For Sale went to the ends of the earth to help her. At that point, she was working two jobs. Now she is alive and free taking care of her beautiful son.

Often people think that only girls are victims and survivors. How can we bring to light that human trafficking affects all genders and races?

Anybody can be exploited and taken advantage of. Simple as that.

Who/what inspires you to continue doing the work you do?

My inspiration comes from my wife and kids. I’m also inspired by the population of youth that I work with. I enjoy seeing the lightbulb flash on when they get it. I get excited when I see confidence in them. I enjoy seeing them overcome in the face of so much adversity!

What’s one misconception you think everyone should change around human trafficking?

The biggest misconception is that they choose to be out there on the streets. That’s not true! No one chooses that life. You’re forced into it, sometimes it’s by a family member or boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s a negative seed that is planted by the wrong person. That is why good parenting is important. We did not choose the family we were born into but we can definitely have a positive impact on the family we make.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Yeah don’t put blinders on your eyes. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

We’re continuing the conversation about human trafficking and invite you to join in our efforts. Follow our posts to hear more about modern-day slavery. If you’re interested in contributing a guest post about this issue or collaborating with us, please email goodness@goodsf.is.