Access Freedom is a prevention-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, dedicated to outreach, providing informed awareness and responding to the commercial sexual exploitation of children/youth within Whatcom County.
Because we believe strongly in the mission of the Center for Children and Youth Justice (ccyj.org), we have collaborated with them and others on the development of the model protocol in responding to the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Washington State.
The vision of Access Freedom is to strengthen the response of the identification and recovery of commercially sexually exploited youth in Whatcom County by:
Access Freedom serves on this committee, which was created by the Legislature in 2013 through Senate Bill 5308. The Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Statewide Coordinating Committee addresses increasing protections for exploited youth by examining local and regional practices and incidence data and making recommendations on statewide laws and practices.
Committee members include representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, the Legislature, state and local agencies, criminal justice entities and advocacy organizations.
Under current Washington state law, the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a crime in which a youth age 17 years or younger is recruited, solicited, coerced and/or forced to engage in the exchange of sexual acts in return for money, basic needs or other material items. These acts may include direct sexual contact, pornography, stripping or other sexualized behaviors performed for the gratification of others.
To read more on the overview of CSEC, see pages 16-17 of the protocol.
Effective response must be based on an understanding of the community and local surroundings. Socio-economic circumstances, ethnic heritage and generational history all make up the social fabric of the community. Geographic diversity also plays a part in the understanding.
As organized sex trafficking expands rapidly across diverse cultural communities in the United States, Access Freedom is working to understand this problem, quantify it, and develop effective responses; beginning within the community in which it was founded.
While age alone is the single greatest risk factor for being trafficked, other dynamics contribute significantly as well. Traffickers, those who exploit youth for monetary gain, are master manipulators. Multiple studies have found that traffickers deliberately target homeless and/or poverty-impacted youth who are desperate to meet survival needs. What Access Freedom has discovered is that those at greatest risk in Whatcom county are the ethnic and socio-economic minority.
A measure of the growing poverty is the homelessness statistics from Whatcom County schools. The number of homeless children in local schools has grown 59 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to data collected by Whatcom Readiness to Learn. (Some of the increase is due to improvements in identifying homeless students.) The US Census found in 2010 that 15% of Whatcom County lives below the poverty level.
Of the children enrolled in public schools in the county, 43% qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. Ferndale School District is currently at 47% free and reduced; Mt. Baker School District is 49.2%; the Nooksack School District is 57.2%; and Bellingham is significantly lower at 36.3%. These statistics give a glimpse into the financial hardship families currently endure.
Two native populations, the Nooksack and the Lummi, make up roughly 3% of Whatcom county's population. A recent study by the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center (MIWRC) found that "in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups, Native women remain the most frequent victims of physical and sexual violence in the United States and Canada." The Hispanic and Latino population is larger than the Native American, comprising roughly 7.8% of the county population. Based on their location and the percentage of children qualifying for the subsidized lunch programs, it seems that the majority of both these populations live at or below the poverty level.
Another risk to youth is homelessness. Northwest Youth Services states that "each year hundreds of youth run away from home in Whatcom County, for a variety of reasons, and have no safe place to go or family to turn to." Combined with the fact that a runaways are most likely to be approached by a trafficker within the first 48 hours of leaving home, the homeless youth and runaway populations are also put at great risk.
What this information illustrates is the growing need for social service programs to support these specific groups and their families.
Anya is the executive director, co-founder and driving force behind the organization. With degrees in history and visual communication, she used her marketing skills to create Access Freedom from the ground up. She connects with the community, creating and maintaining relationships with social service providers and law enforcement. Working with anti-trafficking groups throughout the state and country, she is continually discovering ways to combat this ever-evolving issue locally. Anya serves on a community task force for Pregnant and Parenting Women and Teens Affected by Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking of Violence, through a US Department of Health grant administered by DVSAS. She is also a committed advocate, serving at the policy makers' summit with the Center for Child and Youth Justice to develop state-wide protocol for responding to the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth. She is also participating in two grant programs taking place in Whatcom County. One for the Department of Health through DVSAS, creating improved services for pregnant and parenting women and teens who have been affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The second is Department of Justice STEP grant, which was awarded to the DV Commission and the Ferndale School District to create and maintain violence prevention programs within the secondary schools.
Committed to increasing knowledge on the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth, Robin has been working with youth for the last decade. With a perspective focused on the marginalized, she's constantly learning about the struggles, joys and needs youth have within the context of community. After earning a BA in Political Science and Economics from Western Washington University, she spent a year in Pretoria, South Africa, as a part of the outreach team to prostituted girls and women in the city, eventually becoming the Counter Trafficking Coalition’s program coordinator. Robin is a housing case manager at Northwest Youth Services, and continues to fulfill her passion by being a bridge to youth and the community by promoting awareness and knowledge through education.
Cameron has been working with and advocating for marginalized survivors of sexual abuse and assault since 2004. He's been focused on these same populations in Whatcom County since 2008, with a brief year in Pretoria, South Africa, reaching out to prostituted women and girls within the city. Cameron is the founder and lead of the Restored Innocence Task Force since 2010. Providing a trauma-informed response to victims and survivors, he serves as a community navigator to seek out the most appropriate care from service providers. He is the lead victim advocate for Whatcom County.
As a licensed psychologist for over 20 years, Becca Johnson provides counseling and training in the area of trauma, abuse and exploitation. She has authored books on child abuse, guilt and anger and has provided training and consultation to numerous organizations working with victims of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking around the world as well as within the United States. Her area of expertise is the aftercare and emotional restoration of individuals who have been impacted by sexual abuse and exploitation. She has contributed to the development of several counseling programs utilizing trauma therapy. She is a member of the Restorative Shelter Working Group - a consortium of shelters and outreach programs for sex trafficking victims within the US. Recently appointed as the Director of US Aftercare for Agape International Mission (AIM), Becca also serves as an Aftercare Associate with the International Justice Mission (IJM); as well as being the Consulting Psychologist for Access Freedom.
Jed Brewer, president; Dusty Gulleson, vice-president; Jessica Taylor, secretary; Tonya Hickman, treasurer; Darla Woolman, Anya Kalish Milton, Robin Meyer, Cameron Meyer