The Freedom Ride Project is proud to welcome Action Force Network as one of our non-profit partners. The mission of the organization is to bring awareness about human trafficking into our schools and prevent this crime. Our partnership has already produced some incredible results!

As part of the District Superintendent of the Newport Mesa School District Dr. Navarro’s commitment to launch human trafficking training across all Newport Mesa High Schools this fall and thanks to Veronica Stevens, the President of Action Force Network, we were able to get an early start and deliver training to five classrooms this past week.

In an interview with Elisabeth Gegner, Veronica shares about her passion to educate students and prevent this crime BEFORE it happens.

Why you are so passionate about your work? Why did you found Action Force Network (AFN)?

In 2009 I began working for a non-profit that had safe houses in Ethiopia for rescued women and children from sex trafficking. As the West Coast Development Director, I was responsible for raising awareness about this crime to governmental agencies, churches and universities in an effort to raise funds to help support their survivors. The more research I did I realized that sex trafficking was rampant, not only in third-world countries, but right here in the U.S. As a matter of fact, according to the FBI, this is the fastest growing crime in America. It occurred to me that this was a crime that thrived on ignorance and that was being used to recruit our unsuspecting girls into this crime. Once a person is caught in sexual slavery, they only have a 1% chance of being rescued. As much as I loved working for that non-profit in helping with their aftercare programs, I knew I had to do something to help prevent this crime from happening in the first place. This concept was the birth of Action Force Network. We are dedicated to bringing awareness and prevention to schools, parents and communities on the prevention of sex trafficking. We bring education on the tactics used by the predators to capture their victims and empower them with information on safe online practices and healthy relationship guidelines.

Why education is so critical, especially here in Orange County and the Newport Mesa School District?

CA has the highest reported cases of human trafficking in the country, more than the 2nd and 3rd highest states combined. Orange County is particularly a hotbed for this crime due to our wealth and tourist attractions. Our students need to be given the awareness training and more importantly prevention training on how to protect themselves from the tactics the predators use to lure them into the commercial sex trade industry. Because our workshop is fun and interactive, we are able to engage the students in a lively fast-paced session that the teenagers really enjoy. I have found that once a student receives this information they feel empowered not only to protect themselves, but also their family and friends.

Where have you been conducting most of your education?

We have given our Freedom Requires Education and Empowerment workshop to over 5,000 students in various high schools and middle schools in the Inland Empire and Orange County. Without a doubt, I know we are saving lives with the powerful information we are bringing to the students and faculty!

Could you share some examples of how your work has impacted students lives in a tangible manner?

After one of my presentations a student shared with me that her friend had met someone at the Irvine Spectrum and was actively engaged in building a relationship with him. He fit the profile 100% of a predator. She was only 15 years old and he said he was a senior at a neighboring high school, although he looked much older. He told her that her parents shouldn’t know about the relationship, texted her at all hours of the night, asked her friends to cover for her while she was with him and on and on and on. He began to isolate her from her family and friends and showered her with compliments and gifts. The student said that she had a friend who worked in the high school that he said he went to and she checked the school database to see if he was on the roster, he was not. When she told her friend, she got angry with her and told her to mind her own business.

Later when the friend decided it was a dangerous relationship, she tried to break-up with him but was met with threats from the boyfriend. I was able to get her parents involved to help her exit the relationship. I really couldn’t count the number of girls who said that what they heard in our workshop about the tactics the predators use to lure their victims have happened to them on multiple counts, both in local malls and online. They have all said that they are grateful to have this information and now understand how to handle it when they are put in those situations.

What is your vision for what is possible through your partnership with the Freedom Ride Project and through our Freedom Ride 2016 Event at the Newport Dunes on September 25, 2016?

We are so excited about participating in the Freedom Ride Project’s End of Ride Celebration on September 25th. It is always such an honor to partner with other organizations that are fighting this crime. It is our hope that as a result of this event, many students will want to continue to bring this information to their schools by starting Anti-Human Trafficking clubs on their campuses. If we can keep this issue on the forefront, we will be able to end slavery in America for the last time!