Debbie Johnson is on a mission and she’s interested in taking the community of Oakdale along.
Johnson isn’t looking to climb Mount Everest or even Half Dome. Her mission may not be to climb a mountain, but some might say she’s out to move one. The passion she has for this mission is likely one to move that mountain right out of the 95361 before it even has time to take root.
Johnson is the founder and CEO of the Modesto based Without Permission. On Thursday, Jan. 23 she will pay a visit to the Bianchi Community Center and share not just her passion but her knowledge with parents, students, educators and anyone interested in attending.
Without Permission is a 501c3 non-profit founded in 2010. The mission stated on its website (www.withoutpermission.org) is, “to lead the church and community into the battle that will end sex trafficking.”
The non-profit’s vision states: “Through collaborative partnerships in the Central Valley and across the nation, Without Permission confronts the culture that promotes sex trafficking. We restore the victimized, educate our youth to prevent victimization, and attack the lies that drive demand.”
“I’m not here to freak you out,” Johnson said. “I’m here to tell you this is the virus that runs in this age group. This is the virus that runs in our country at national epidemic proportions. We need to make sure we inoculate our children against it and the way we do that is education.”
With 13 years of experience in the area of human and sex trafficking, Johnson shared her strongest belief is “knowledge is power.”
“The only way you’ll know about human trafficking in Oakdale is if you’re talking about it. You have to rattle the tree.”
According to Johnson, small towns, the Central Valley and bedroom communities are a hot spot for recruitment. The predator doesn’t look like what one might see in the movies or envision from television news magazine programs.
“Recruitment is happening on social media, on high school campuses, at high school parties, at Vintage Faire Mall and we’ve had two 16-year-old girls recruited at their jobs, while working their jobs,” she shared.
“So the conversation around this has to be mainstream, it can’t be ‘isn’t that sad for those little at risk youth’,” Johnson continued.
She additionally shared that while those in foster care may seem the most likely prey, the epidemic is hardly limited to what society may deem the less fortunate. The predator targets anyone. It is the age (between 12 to 18) when the child is most vulnerable. Victims range from children of two parent homes, active in church, to children of divorce or those of working parent homes seeking more attention. In short, there is no “profile.”
“Foster care is a conduit for human trafficking,” she acknowledged. “Traffickers target vulnerabilities. That can be a working parent, child of divorce, isolation at school, professional parents, parents in education, Christian ministries, private school – children became trafficked. It can be anyone. That’s the number one message I have to get out to parents who think this could never happen to my kids. That’s a false security blanket.”
In support of the non-profile, Johnson noted the, biologically speaking, the period of time the child is in supports the temptation. From the ages of 12 to 17 a teenager is separating from authority and establishing identity.
“They don’t have capacity to assess risk,” she said, adding that she and her team educate so that any child may not only help themselves but also empower a friend or other child who is unaware.
“Locally the work we’ve done, our entry age has been 16 years old. That’s our common,” she stated. “Staying away from averages, the common entry age for us is 16 years old. Our youngest victim has been an 11-year-old male.”
As someone who is passionate about this topic and saving children from the harms of “The Circuit” (as it’s known to be called), Johnson is pleased with the support she has received from the community of Oakdale. The first event of this type was presented in late November. Hosted by Oakdale Police Department, as well as the City of Oakdale and Oakdale Joint Unified School District, a solid foundation was set.
For this Thursday’s event, River Oak Grace Community Church and Life Community Church have partnered with Without Permission to take on the topic of Parent/Student Prevention. The event is free to the community and will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; the Bianchi Center is at 110 S. Second Ave., Oakdale.
“The younger generation is dreaming of getting out of the small towns/bedroom communities and this crime is capitalizing on that,” Johnson acknowledged. “So they think these bedroom communities don’t know, so it makes it easier. I’m trying to change that.”
According to Johnson, the number one volume of calls for help to the national human trafficking hotline, which is hosted by the Polaris Project, come from the state of California. Seventy-five percent of all phone calls to the national human trafficking hot line are regarding sex trafficking.
“Human trafficking moves on a circuit,” she stated. “It’s a crime that moves their victims from city to city, it’s called the circuit. We are part of that circuit here in the Central Valley.”
The circuit, Johnsons said, comes up through Highway 99 and I-5. They plant themselves in Patterson, become part of varying communities for six months, meet children, befriend them, making friends with the vulnerable. They invite them to professional sports games, concerts and other events.
“The girl gets in the car and then they’re in the circuit,” she said. “If we do not educate our children, they do not know what to look for.”
Through education and awareness, Johnson has made it the mission of Without Permission to change that, working to keep kids and communities safe.