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Mental illness, homelessness major issue in South Los Angeles

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In a study published earlier this year by the American Psychiatry Association, Millennials were found to be the most anxious generation. Women reported higher anxiety than men, and people of color scored 11 points higher on the anxiety scale than Whites.

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Distinguishing myths from facts

By Lisa Fitch, Our Weekly News Contributor

During Mental Health Month (May) the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count results came in. While both subjects—mental health and homelessness—are becoming increasingly intertwined within the African-American community, the latter report is filled with “June gloom.”

“But not surprising,” said Dr. Erica Holmes, director of the Championship Counseling Center at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood.

“There are a lot of reasons that cause individuals to lose their housing and the city, county and state haven’t done much to reduce those risk factors.”

According to the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), this year’s point-in-time count put the number of homeless people countywide just shy of 59,000. That’s an increase of twelve-percent increase over last year’s count.

“A lot of people think the majority of the homeless population have some severe mental illness, but that’s not true,” said Holmes, a licensed psychologist. “Most of the homeless are women with children.”

According to LAHSA, 38 percent of the homeless are African-American and 30 percent of those counted are female. Twenty-seven percent of the 18-and-over homeless population reportedly have serious mental illnesses.

“Treating mental illness is kind of like with cancer – early detection is best,” Holmes said.

Driving through downtown’s Skid Row, one can see and feel the destitution. Hundreds and hundreds of people are in need of physical and mental services.

But somehow, Ericka Newsome, 39, found an oasis on Skid Row. The Downtown Women’s Shelter is helping her through mental health and housing services.

“I was in foster care a couple of times,” Newsome said. “I’m the second oldest of 12 children.”

Story of Ericka Newsome

After suffering beatings from an abusive mother, Newsome was determined to live on her own. She received prescription drugs for depression and attended Pasadena City College, close to where she was reared.

“The original plan was to transfer to a four-year music school,” Newsome said. “But I had to get a job right away.”

Newsome worked with temporary agencies and landed a job at a local bank. She was even a Rose Parade musician at one time.

“I was being a responsible citizen, paid my bills, following the rules,” Newsome added. “In 2009, a lot of people in the banking industry were cut back. There were no raises, but my rent went up.”

Newsome had to live in her car when she could not afford rent. To avoid parking tickets when she parked on the Pasadena streets, she slept in the bank’s parking structure. She became a member at a local gym, where she could take showers.

“One day after lunch I got a call to go to HR (Human Resources),” Newsome said. “’Hey, ‘you’re no longer part of this company’ they said. I remember walking out and I stood on the edge of the parking structure ready to jump.”

That’s when Newsome checked into the Huntington Hospital – Della Martin Center in Pasadena, where she received a psychological evaluation and hospitalization for depression and anxiety.

But after treatment, she was back sleeping in her car. When she had to sell her automobile to get some money, she was left to walk the streets. She found out about the Downtown Women’s Center while she was staying at a shelter in South Los Angeles.

Downtown Women’s Center

But then one day she was turned away because the shelter was filled to capacity.

“I was really scared and trying to find a place to keep safe,” Newsome said. “The shelter would bus us to this place downtown to shower, get food and clothes.”

Newsome tried to remember the bus route and walked the streets until she finally found the Downtown Women’s Center.

“In the shelter, you had to shower at night,” Newsome remembers. “But at the center you could shower in the morning. I really liked that.” She now attends their group sessions and receives assistance to live in an apartment.

The Downtown Women’s Center has operated for 41 years on Skid Row. They have 119 permanent, supported housing units downtown, as well as other housing units located throughout Los Angeles County.

Some renters pay 30 percent of their income for rent. But a job is not a prerequisite.

“Once a person gets housed, they make sure they are mentally stable there and we’re monitored,” Newsome said. “I don’t want a setback. I need to maintain.”

“I want to give back,” Newsome added, noting that she has joined the Downtown Women’s Center’s advisory board. “I want to pass the word. I was in the same situation. It’s possible.”

Newsome recognizes that there is a cloud surrounding the issue of mental health, especially in the Black community.

“There’s a stigma there,” Newsome said. “But you shouldn’t look down on me because I’m getting help. That doesn’t downgrade my value.”

The African-American community, in particular, has a fear of asking for mental health services, according to Dr. Holmes.

“Research shows that African-Americans tend go to ‘family first,’ then pastor or clergy, and then seek professional psychological services,” Holmes said. “By the time they come into counseling, dealing with psychological distress has become a way of life. Sometimes we have to unpack five, 10, 15 years of depression.”

A stigma in Black families

The center, which has more than a dozen clinicians on staff, conducts a standard intake, which includes a questionnaire asking potential clients about their current situation, why they want therapy, and their previous use of psychotropic medications. They provide services to children as young as four years of age and to seniors. Client fees
are based on their ability to pay.

Word is spreading through social media that mental health is an important part of overall health and is made up of our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It’s a part of life and nothing to be ashamed of.

Millenials embrace therapy

Although seeking out professional help has been a taboo subject for years, Millennials are more likely than previous generations to pursue therapy when they recognize the signs of stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.

A 2015 study conducted by American University revealed that Millennials grew up hearing about mental illnesses—including eating disorders and suicidal tendencies—more than any other age group. This younger society is reportedly more accepting of mental health challenges and is also more likely to talk about mental health issues than their parents or grandparents.

In the American University survey of 900 Millennials, more than 70 percent said they would be comfortable visiting a counselor or therapist.

As more people speak out, the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen. Celebrities are openly sharing their mental health struggles in social media, such as former Laker Metta World Peace, who regularly shared his challenges and experiences.

Stigma, distrust and socioeconomic reasons have historically all been factors in Black America’s shunning of professional mental health assistance. The need for these discussions has only increased.

In a study published earlier this year by the American Psychiatric Association, Millennials were found to be the most anxious generation. Women reported higher anxiety than men, and people of color scored 11 points higher on the anxiety scale than Whites.

Research suggests that African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience a mental health disorder as opposed to the general population, but many factors may inhibit proper treatment. Only 25 percent of Blacks seek professional help, compared to 40 percent of Whites with mental health disorders.

Daily stress can be an enemy of your mental health. It causes a chemical reaction that occurs when the body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode. Your heart rate increases and blood pressure rises.

Know the signs and potential triggers of mental illness and if you’re ever concerned about how you feel, consult a doctor:

  • Insomnia
  • Low energy
  • Negative outlook or thoughts
  • Pulling away from people or usual activities
  • Lack of affection
  • Mood disorder
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Poor judgment
  • Upset stomach
  • Racing thoughts
  • Chest pains

Mental health experts agree that when a person is experiencing excessive stress and it is interfering with daily activities, seeking help is key. In addition to discussing the situation with a professional, reach out to friends; look for local support; and find
therapeutic resources.

Some stress tools worth trying include, acupuncture; aromatherapy; art therapy; deep breathing; exercise; healthy eating; massage therapy; stretching; and yoga.

Your mental health affects your physical health. Don’t ignore the signs.

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Jack Nicklaus Once Again Surprises Military Veterans with a Golf Lesson in Honor of Veterans Day and the PGA National Day of HOPE

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The PGA of America reaches out to Veterans, they reach out to all different people,” explained Jack Nicklaus, who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015) and the Lincoln Medal (2018). “It is a great organization. PGA HOPE is impactful on its own, but they also collaborate with other organizations, such as partnering with Folds of Honor for Patriot Golf Days.

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Jack Nicklaus coaches PGA HOPE Veteran, Homer Watts, during the Jack Nicklaus PGA HOPE Veterans Lessons at the Bear’s Club on November 7, 2022 in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Sarah Kenney/PGA of America)
Jack Nicklaus coaches PGA HOPE Veteran, Homer Watts, during the Jack Nicklaus PGA HOPE Veterans Lessons at the Bear’s Club on November 7, 2022 in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Sarah Kenney/PGA of America)

Special to NNPA Newswire

Imagine being invited to play a round of golf at Jack Nicklaus’ Florida home club and getting a surprise lesson from none other than the 18-time major champion himself.

For the third straight year, Nicklaus gave some hometown military heroes who participate in the South Florida PGA Section PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program a memory for a lifetime at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida.

In celebration of both Veterans Day and the PGA National Day of HOPE, Nicklaus thanked the playing group of Veterans for their service and shared instructional tips, before inviting them out as his guests for a day on the championship golf course that he designed and is played regularly by up to 30 PGA TOUR pros who are members.

As the military pillar of PGA REACH, PGA HOPE is designed to introduce golf to Veterans and Active-Duty Military to enhance their physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.

PGA REACH and PGA HOPE aspire to create a physically and emotionally healthier Veteran community through a six- to eight-week curriculum led by PGA Professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency.

U.S. Army Veteran First Lt. (Ret.) Robert Truckenmiller received a Purple Heart after being shot in the Vietnam War.

Other than hearing from other Veterans from time to time, he said that when he got a call from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inviting him to take part in the PGA HOPE program, it was the first real “welcome home” feeling he ever received for his service.

“The PGA of America reaches out to Veterans, they reach out to all different people,” explained Nicklaus, who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015) and the Lincoln Medal (2018).

“It is a great organization. PGA HOPE is impactful on its own, but they also collaborate with other organizations, such as partnering with Folds of Honor for Patriot Golf Days.

“I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country’s freedom, and try to get behind efforts to help our Veterans, as well as their families. For me to do my little part—even to a small group—I am delighted to do so, especially for the PGA HOPE program.”

PGA HOPE has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the VA, which enables Recreational Therapists to refer Veterans to PGA HOPE as a form of therapy.

Truckenmiller was quite surprised when Nicklaus stepped out on the driving range.

“I’m a little bit awestruck,” said Truckenmiller.

“He’s probably the best golfer ever, and he was most gracious. He helped me with my putting, on lining my ball up, and to stop moving my head. He told me to stare at it when I hit it.

“I lost my wife of 54 years three months ago. This is a remedy for some of the loneliness.”

U.S. Air Force Sgt. (Ret.) Pamela Carter, of Wellington, Florida, lost her brother, Bruce, in the Vietnam War. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously, and the VA Medical Center in Miami is named after him.

When Nicklaus approached Pamela and gave her a lesson, she quickly reached in her pocket and handed him a challenge coin with her brother’s photo on it.

“I was just shocked he was here,” said Carter. “I stumbled on PGA HOPE and signed up for it. Meeting true war heroes who are now being respected puts a new spin on it. PGA HOPE reaches out and makes us feel welcome.”

U.S. Army/Air Force Reserves Sgt. (Ret.) Homer Watts Jr. had the thrill of a lifetime.

“Oh my goodness,” Watts said. “He’s a legend. It was a total shock. I was very surprised. PGA HOPE is such an amazing program. It gets people out of the hospital and into other activities. You meet great instructors who take their time with you. It’s almost like family. Actually, it’s just like family.”

Joining them for instruction and the round of golf was 2022 South Florida PGA Section Patriot Award recipient Jerry Impellittiere, PGA Director of Instruction at Monarch Country Club in Palm City.

Impellittiere originally learned the game from PGA Professionals at West Point Golf Course and now pays it forward by teaching two PGA HOPE Programs.

He is known as “The Collector,” as he collects donated golf clubs to give to Veterans for them to learn and play the game. Ironically, Impellittiere once played in a grouping with Nicklaus and Dave Stockton at the B.C. Open, two players renowned for their putting.

“I didn’t make the cut, but I led the PGA TOUR in putting stats that year,” said Impellittiere.

Nicklaus has a long-held fondness for the nation’s military and the incredible sacrifices made by service members.

“These people have earned the help of all Americans,” said Nicklaus. “I enjoy doing this. I want to be a part of it, especially if it makes a difference. I am very honored.”

This year, PGA HOPE aims to impact the lives of over 7,500 Veterans through its transformational program led by PGA Professionals, and has set a goal of 36,000 annually by 2026.

In its sixth year, PGA National Day of HOPE is a month-long campaign running through Veterans Day. The campaign celebrates our nation’s heroes who protect our freedom, while raising awareness and support for PGA HOPE.

To support the 2022 National Day of HOPE Campaign, please visit the Official Fundraising Page.

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United Travel Credits Giving HBCU Golf Programs Wings, Expanding Range of Traditionally Underfunded Teams

NNPA NEWSWIRE — On Wednesday, some 23 years later, and on her 41st birthday, no less, Levister was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open. Christian Latham, who is working on his master’s degree in architecture, and seniors Rondarius Walters and Taylor Harvey, a member of the women’s team, would play with Phil Griffith, who is a vice president of operations for United Airlines’ Houston hub, and PGA TOUR pros Stewart Cink and Matthew NeSmith.

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Mesha Levister (second from left) was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.
Mesha Levister (second from left) was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.

By Helen Ross, PGA Tour, Special to NNPA Newswire

James Levister thought it would be a phase.

Sure, he was an avid golfer. A 4 handicap at his best, in fact.

But when he started his 3-year-old daughter, Mesha, playing golf, he figured she would eventually get tired of the game.

He was wrong, though. His daughter loved playing with her dad on weekends — she finally beat him when she was 16 and never lost again — and she thrived on the challenge of the game.

“It was our thing,” Mesha said. “I liked that it was hard, and I continued to play because it was hard. But for me, when I was small, it was about being with him and doing something different.”

She played four years of varsity golf and basketball at her Florida high school, got scholarship offers in both sports, and wanted to turn pro. Eventually, she had to choose between the two.

“I told my dad I would rather play golf because there are fewer people that look like me playing golf,” said Levister, who is African American. “I wanted to be a trendsetter…I felt like I had something to give in the game. I didn’t realize what it was back then as a little 17-year-old.”

On Wednesday, some 23 years later, and on her 41st birthday, no less, Levister was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.

Christian Latham, who is working on his master’s degree in architecture, and seniors Rondarius Walters and Taylor Harvey, a member of the women’s team, would play with Phil Griffith, who is a vice president of operations for United Airlines’ Houston hub, and PGA TOUR pros Stewart Cink and Matthew NeSmith.

“I hope that they get an out-of-this-world experience that they may not have ever gotten — ever,” Levister said. “Or that it opens up their eyes to the maximum potential and drives them to be whatever they want to be.”

The pairing with Griffith is no accident. United Airlines, in partnership with the PGA TOUR, has earmarked more than $500,000 in grants to 55 golf teams at HBCUs like Prairie View.

Each school gets $10,000 in travel credits to bolster travel and recruiting budgets and potentially help more than 250 student-athletes compete in places that may have been out of reach.

United and the TOUR recently announced a multi-year extension of their official marketing relationship, extending the annual commitment to HBCUs through 2025.

Griffith also attended a clinic earlier this week in which golfers from another Houston-area HBCU, Texas Southern, worked with youngsters from the First Tee. He’s excited about the impact the grants are having.

“I’m very impressed with these kids and when I look at where I was back then, if you don’t know that something exists, yeah, it’s kind of hard for you to aspire for,” Griffith said. “And a lot of the things that these kids are doing today, I had no aspirations for because I just didn’t know.

“I think as we continue this program,” he added, “just opening their eyes and showing them valuable and effective ways of getting there, it’s going to be a lot of fun over the years. That’s what I’m hoping.”

All in it together

Levister coaches the men’s and women’s teams at Prairie View A&M, which is the second-oldest public university in Texas.

She’s also done double duty at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), as well as at Lincoln University in Jefferson, Missouri.

“It’s interesting to see the dynamic and be able to create a culture here of togetherness and make sure that everybody roots for everybody because we’re all one team,” Levister said.

Forging something of a non-traditional path is second nature to Levister. When the women’s team at her college in Florida disbanded, she was recruited by NCCU to play on its men’s team.

She played No.1 and was the team’s most valuable player as a freshman, also earning Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Rookie of the Year honors.

After 9/11, Levister left school and went home to Wash., D.C. She was the first African American to win the 2004 Virginia Women’s Amateur and was named the state’s female golfer of the year. She turned pro in 2006 and joined the Symetra Tour in 2010.

Life on the road could be lonely, though, particularly for a young woman who was often the only African American entered in an event.

“I’m still a golfer, regardless,” Levister said firmly. And she can’t shake the memory of being pulled over by a policeman in New York.

“The cop came over and asked the other tour player that was in the car, who was a white female, instead of asking the normal stuff, he asked the young lady that was in the passenger seat, ‘Are you OK?’” Levister said.

“So, for me that was a little bit of a traumatic experience…But he let me go. So, he really pulled me over just to check on the person in the car.”

After Levister’s father died in 2014, she decided to quit the tour.

She still competed, winning the 2015 EP Pro Women’s Championship, but began to focus on teaching. She joined the staff at NCCU in 2020 and helped start the women’s program before heading to Prairie View A&M.

She’s only been there about a month, but she already feels accepted by her players, who share her goal of returning the Panthers to dominance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

And she wants to make it easier for others to follow her path.

“I am definitely all about how I take on life now,” Levister said. “I just want to be a good person, do the right thing and break glass ceilings for the next people behind me so they don’t have it as hard as I did.”

Keeping the program alive

When Prairie View A&M lost its golf coach last fall, Latham had just graduated magna cum laude, finishing his architecture degree in three years, and started working on his master’s.

But the team needed a coach, and Latham stepped up in a big way. “He really held the fort down last year for both of the teams,” Levister said.

Like Levister, Latham was a multi-sport athlete who started playing golf because of his dad. But his favorite sport was baseball — his grandfather Cliff Johnson played 20 years in the major leagues, including two World Series with the New York Yankees.

By the time Latham got to high school, though, he had become disillusioned with baseball. He endured racist taunts, many times from the adults and coaches who flat-out lied to him.

“I lost my passion for baseball,” he said. “I didn’t even want to play anymore. So that’s what really got me stuck into golf because it’s like at the end of the day, no one can else say anything about me as long as I’m shooting a score I need to shoot.

“So that’s how I really got into it. And I just focus on golf only now. That’s what brought me.”

The summer before he entered high school in Katy, Texas, a Houston suburb, Latham spent every day at the golf course.

He shot 111 in his first tournament, but by the end of the summer, he broke 80 for the first time.

With continued improvement, he began to think about playing in college and verbally committed to Prairie View A&M after his sophomore year.

In addition to studying for his master’s, where he’s designing a practice facility for the golf team as a class project, and hitting balls on the range, Latham is getting hands-on experience by working at an architecture firm several days a week.

He also has a 14-month-old son named Kai — who is full of “joy and happiness,” Latham said — half the week.

“He’s like my little twin,” Latham said. “So now I got him a plastic set of golf clubs and seeing him wanting to play with that is pretty cool.”

Just because he’s working on his master’s degree doesn’t mean Latham is giving up on his dream to play golf professionally, though.

He’s already played in one APGA event and hopes to play well enough this year to finish in the top five of its collegiate rankings, which would give him scholarship access to the tour’s events through the remainder of the 2023 season.

“I’m not going to just stop that goal and stop that dream,” he said.

“I’m going to still work hard this semester to try to get to that level or continue to just add on to where I should be.”

Giving players wings

With the travel credits provided by United, schools like Prairie View A&M will be able to compete in higher profile events that might otherwise seem out of reach — quite literally.

Levister, who once rode 11 hours from Durham, N.C. to Port St. Lucie, Florida, for a college tournament, has already started putting those credits to work.

“Even in the short time that I’ve been here, it’s saved us a tremendous amount of time and money just to be able to have access to go over to Houston Airport and to fly,” she said.

“Just to reduce costs of travel helps tremendously because now we can use those funds to give them a better experience as a student-athlete and a college golfer.”

Latham remembers a 15-hour bus ride from Houston to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where the Panthers played in — and won — the 2021 PGA Works Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

With two travel days each way and the tournament itself, the Black Panthers were gone nine days.

That’s why on Wednesday Latham planned to thank Griffith for United’s support. That United and organizations like the PGA TOUR are seeing value in HBCU golf has been a big help.

“I want to say it makes us feel more comfortable when we’re not having to travel,” Latham said, “cramped up for 14 hours, 16 hours, when we could just make a two-hour plane ride. And it makes an impact on the team.”

“I mean, we’ve had times to where people didn’t even have enough seats on the bus,” he continued, “and we’re just kind of all locked up or having to make multiple trips to get somewhere because we don’t have enough room to bring everybody.”

“So, it means a lot. Gives us the opportunity to try to feel more like a sports program because we see other sports programs get to travel like that. And we never necessarily got to.”

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Holiday Season Routinely Sees Rise in Human Trafficking

The number of persons convicted of a federal human trafficking offense increased from 2011 (464 persons) to 2019 (837 persons) before falling in 2020 (658 persons). Of the 1,169 defendants charged in U.S. district court with human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020 — 92% were male, 63% were white, 18% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 95% were U.S. citizens, and 66% had no prior convictions.

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If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire

Federal prosecutors said the fight against human trafficking, a crime that harms some of the most vulnerable members of society, counts among their highest priorities.

“We are committed to vindicating the rights of human trafficking crime victims by bringing their traffickers to justice and working to ensure that survivors have access to restitution, services, and assistance that are needed to rebuild their lives,” U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg said in a statement.

U.S. Department of Justice officials maintain that their strong efforts continue to combat human trafficking.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney General released the Department of Justice’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking.

The strategy laid out the Department’s multi-year plan to combat all forms of human trafficking, focusing on efforts to protect victims of trafficking, prosecute human trafficking cases, and prevent further acts of human trafficking.

The Human Trafficking Institute estimates that there are 24.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.

In 2020, the Institute reported that federal courts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 U.S. territories handled 579 active human trafficking prosecutions, 94% of which were sex trafficking cases and 6% forced labor cases.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, individuals prosecuted for human trafficking increased from 729 in 2011 to 1,343 in 2020, an 84% rise.

The number of persons convicted of a federal human trafficking offense increased from 2011 (464 persons) to 2019 (837 persons) before falling in 2020 (658 persons). Of the 1,169 defendants charged in U.S. district court with human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020 — 92% were male, 63% were white, 18% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 95% were U.S. citizens, and 66% had no prior convictions.

By the end of 2020, for the 47 states that reported data, 1,564 persons were in the custody of a state prison serving a sentence for a human trafficking offense.

The District of Columbia reported zero new criminal human trafficking cases filed in federal courts in 2021.

The advocacy organization Hope for Justice defines human trafficking as modern slavery, where one person controls another for profit by exploiting a vulnerability.

Victims usually are forced to work or are sexually exploited, and the trafficker keeps all or nearly all the money. The control can be physical, financial, or psychological.

ChildWelfare.com says the legal definition of trafficking involves “the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat, and deception and includes human rights abuses such as debt bondage, deprivation of liberty, and lack of control over freedom and labor.”

The organization noted that trafficking could be for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation.

In 2004, officials formed the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force to increase the prosecution of traffickers while identifying and serving the victims.

The task force’s primary goal is to “facilitate a more coordinated anti-trafficking effort in the D.C. area through protocol development, extensive community outreach, proactive investigations, law enforcement training, intelligence sharing, and more formalized partnerships between law enforcement organizations and non-governmental organizations.”

Additionally, while the holiday season counts as a time of joy, happiness, and fun, the nonprofit Shero Foundation said for human trafficking victims, the holidays are no different from any other day.

Law enforcement officials said traffickers typically increase their illegal activities during the holiday season.

“We let our guard down because you’re supposed to be joyful, and, you know, it’s a great time of year. And unfortunately, we have people out there that don’t care what time of year it is,” Tony Mancuso, a sheriff in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, told reporters in a pre-Christmas interview in 2021.

“California is home to some of the largest hubs for sex and labor trafficking in the United States, and it is beyond the time our state takes the necessary steps in combatting this criminal enterprise,” Democratic Assemblymember Tim Grayson insisted.

Grayson noted that human trafficking was a $150 billion-a-year global industry and introduced a bill to establish the California Multidisciplinary Alliance to Stop Trafficking Act (California MAST).

The bill aims to examine and evaluate existing programs and outreach for survivors and victims of human trafficking and provide recommendations to strengthen California’s response to supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable.

“In my search for a better life, I found myself exploited by various individuals similar to other child trafficking survivors,” said Jimmy Lopez, survivor advocate for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. “Human trafficking is an invisible crisis plaguing our state and forcing thousands of children to grow up too fast; we must stop trafficking in its tracks, and we must hold offenders accountable,” Lopez said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

Support is provided in more than 200 languages. Hotline officials said they are there to listen and connect those in need with the help required to stay safe. Callers can dial 711 to access the Hotline using TTY.

You can also email help@humantraffickinghotline.org.

To report a potential human trafficking situation, call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or submit a tip online here.

All communication with the hotline is strictly confidential.

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