ZOE East Coast Trainings Foster Collaboration to Combat Human Trafficking

Recently, Sandy Esparza, our Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert, joined the ZOE East Coast team for a series of powerful training sessions. 

Sandy brought her invaluable perspective as a survivor leader to over 60 law enforcement officers, detectives, and representatives from local restoration homes and community organizations.

Both Berks and Lancaster County District Attorney offices came together and met at a local fire station for the training sessions. Sandy led intensive training for law enforcement to help them gain better insight on human trafficking victims, their experiences, and how to be more trauma informed and victim centered in their interactions with them.  

As a lived experience expert, Sandy drew from her own experiences, and emphasized the importance of building trust and nurturing relationships with human trafficking survivors through consistency and compassion.

Sandy shared, “The synergy between Berks County and Lancaster County is nothing short of remarkable. The energy, commitment, and empathy in the air were palpable, leaving an indelible impression on me. I am humbled by the incredible dedication of this exceptional group working tirelessly to uplift and empower victims.”

Sandy’s presentations created an environment of collaboration among agencies united in the mission to combat and end human trafficking and her first-hand knowledge enriched law enforcement’s understanding of survivor experiences and the need for trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches. 

Lt Nelson Ortiz, Supervisor Human Trafficking Task Force, Berks County Detectives shared, “Sandy Esparza’s willingness and ability to share her personal experience as a victim of human trafficking during our training gave those attending a clear understanding of the perpetrators’ methods of operation. We see in her words the suffering of the victims. It opens law enforcement’s eyes to clearly see the coercion, force, and psychological abuse that’s used on the victims.”

He added, “The tactics of the criminal leaves the victims feeling hopeless and worthless. They feel there is no way out of the continual abuse. Sandy’s real-life experience as a victim, motivates Law Enforcement to take a more proactive approach to the crime of human trafficking.”  

Meg McCallum, Supervising Assistant District Attorney for Berks County added,“The Berks County Human Trafficking Task Force is grateful to have had Sandy Esparza participate in our recent training. Her willingness to share her experiences so openly made an impact on each person in attendance and allowed them to truly understand the coercion and manipulation that traffickers use. By learning this firsthand, our local law enforcement now have a better understanding of how to appropriately communicate with survivors in hopes that we can build a stronger case. However, it opened their eyes that building relationships and being able to have an advocate involved to provide basic needs is part of the process and that the end game is not always going to be an arrest and prosecution.”

Sandy also gave the same training about engagement strategies to help survivors of trafficking to two local restoration homes for adult women survivors. The training primarily focused on best practices, trauma-informed care, and victim-centered support and approach.

The training opened lines of dialogue and strengthened the network of advocates, officers, detectives, prosecutors, and support services dedicated to protecting victims and bringing traffickers to justice.

Amanda Tlumach, ZOE East Coast’s Administrative and Donor Relations Assistant shared, “Sandy’s training couldn’t have been better timed. Just three days after hearing Sandy’s testimony, our team of advocates sat face-to-face with a woman engaged in the commercial sex industry. With the new insight gained from Sandy’s shared experience, we were able to acknowledge the seemingly insurmountable challenge facing this vulnerable woman. 

She could not fathom returning to a low-wage job and the reality of waiting for each paycheck. In the “life,” she can earn more money quickly and on her own terms. Despite the potential risks and hardships inherent in her line of work, the daunting steps necessary to secure a better future proved overwhelming for her. It’s why we aim to build connections and establish relationships with these women. Achieving such transformative change demands unwavering dedication and comes with significant costs. Therefore, having access to a supportive network and vital resources becomes paramount.”

Do you want to learn more about ZOE’s East Coast efforts in preventing and combating human trafficking? Click here to learn more!

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