A special presentation by Debbie Johnson, Chief Executive Officer and founder of “Without Permission,” a nonprofit organization was offered at the Riverbank Unified School District boardroom on Wednesday, Jan. 21 to bring awareness of human trafficking in the area for the Riverbank community.
The nonprofit organization was created in January 2012 and under Johnson’s leadership the organization has informed the Stanislaus County community about human trafficking ever since.
Johnson has collaborated with law enforcement, social services, educators, and medical staff to bring her vision of hope to the Central Valley and raise awareness regarding this issue.
In 2013, Without Permission received the “National FBI Director’s Community Leadership” Award and Johnson was flown to FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. in April 2014 to receive the award from FBI Director James Comey.
Johnson was also selected for “Woman of the Year for California District 12” in 2014. She was recognized by Soroptimist International Modesto as a “Distinguished Woman of the Year” for her professional and voluntary accomplishments in the area of human rights and status of women. Congressman Jeff Denham, Senator Anthony Cannella, Senator Tom Berryhill, Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh and Stanislaus County Supervisor Dick Monteith gave Johnson special recognition and awards as well.
Close to three dozen people attended the presentation including representatives from Stanislaus County Behaviorial and Recovery Services, Center for Human Services, teachers from Riverbank High School, Riverbank Language Academy, the Principal from Crossroads Elementary, counselors from the Riverbank Unified School District, and Riverbank School District administration representatives.
During the presentation, Johnson explained that the greater Modesto, Stanislaus County area is part of a circuit of six regions within Northern California where girls are being trafficked. Also adding, that there could be some victims within our own schools whom could be involved in the sex trafficking.
Johnson stated that there are 24 massage parlors within the Modesto area that have been targeted with operating as brothels, and girls are being trafficked through those so called businesses. She also mentioned that the average age when girls get lured into trafficking is 13-years-old, boys are 12-years-old, and victims of trafficking cross all demographics.
Some key points presented included that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, if a child is having sex for money, they are a victim of trafficking and someone is controlling their actions. Most all victims of trafficking experience abuse, neglect, fear, manipulation, and they do whatever it takes to survive, Johnson said.
“The presentation went great, however, the topic of human trafficking is very heavy and many of the attendees left with a somber heart,” stated Keenon Krick, Program Grant Manager for Riverbank Unified School District and CASA del Rio. “This is a topic that could be easy to turn a blind eye to because of the intense nature and fear that comes with something like this happening to people we know.”
In a brief biography it stated, Johnson has “a mandate to expose and help us heal from sexual slavery in America.” She believes Without Permission exists to remind a generation of the principles that made our country great. These are the values that will save us from self-destruction and this modern-age slavery called human trafficking.
“Debbie was here to let us know that this is happening within our community, and the only way for it to stop is for people to take a stand and take the necessary measures to speak out when we know it is happening,” added Krick. “Most everyone I talked with thought the presentation was fantastic, but very difficult to hear because of all the graphic details that can happen to a young girl or boy, with all the abuse they endure from a pimp or individual who is paying for sex.
“This was also a wake-up call for many in the room who have never known that trafficking was occurring in this area.”