“Human Trafficking: Seeking Justice” will be the topic of the 17th Annual Harry Specht Memorial Child Welfare Symposium, 8:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., April 29 at the University Dining Hall, hosted by the Title IV-E Child Welfare Program at Fresno State.

“This issue is an important concern in the Central Valley, as this is a main area where human trafficking takes place,” said Maggie Armistead, faculty in the Department of Social Work Education. “The goal of the symposium is to bring awareness and knowledge of advocacy-based services and portray at more accurate picture of the strengths of individuals and their families facing exploitation and human trafficking experiences.”

According to Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, 178 human trafficking victims have been identified in the Central Valley, with the youngest being 12 and the oldest at 52. Across the globe, an estimated 27 million people have been trafficked. This includes labor trafficking and sex trafficking.

The symposium will feature speakers Melissa Gomez and Ryan Townsend. Gomez is program manager for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission’s Central Valley Against Human Trafficking Project and chair of the Central Valley Freedom Coalition. She has 14 years of experience serving victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault from diverse cultural and faith backgrounds.

Townsend is the executive director of the Central Valley Justice Coalition. Born to missionary parents, he witnessed firsthand the extreme poverty in cities and villages around the world. He later returned to Fresno where he served in a number of pastoral roles, advocating for others and fighting for the poor.

Two survivors of human trafficking will also share their story, giving participants an intimate look into the mind of a trafficking victim.

The symposium will present research findings that bring to light the struggles children and families in the Central Valley face, and will present an opportunity for dialogue as it relates to child welfare, education, mental health, community based organizations, legal system and economic development.

The Title IV-E Child Welfare Program, under the Department of Social Work Education, prepares social work students for careers in human services, with a special emphasis on child welfare, mental health and aging fields. The issue of human trafficking is timely for these students, said Armistead.

“It is important for students to be knowledgeable of this concern for their practice in the event that they come across someone in this situation,” Armistead said. “By them being aware of certain factors, then they can ask the appropriate questions to better advocate for someone finding themselves as a victim of human trafficking.”

There are currently 54 graduate students and 19 undergraduate students in the program, with 35 of them expected to graduate in May. The graduating students will be honored at the event and given the opportunity to have their projects/theses on display.

The symposium is named in honor of Dr. Harry Specht, an advocate for strengthening social work’s commitment to the poor, and a leading authority on community organization and social planning. Specht was dean of the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley and co-wrote the book, “Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work Abandoned its Mission”.

The event is being sponsored by the Central California Area Social Services Consortium, the Fresno State Department of Social Work Education and Fresno State.

For more information, contact Maggie Armistead at marmistead@csufresno.edu or 559.278.6851.