LATO held its third annual conference, In Our Backyard: Protecting Our Teens, on March 24, 2017, on the campus of Temple University. The morning session included four presenters:
John Rafferty, Assistant District Attorney, Child Abuse Unit of the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, who prosecutes crimes including child sexual abuse, homicide, and human trafficking. He spoke about the changes in state laws that are helping to address Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in the Philadelphia area.
Kathryn E. Holton, Compensation and Special Services Manager, Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc., who specializes in services related to human trafficking, presented her agency’s role in supporting individuals who have been victimized by human trafficking.
Rev. Dr. Donna Lawrence Jones, pastor of Beloved Community Baptist Church, has been a public policy advocate in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., on issues related to economic justice, education, and restorative practices for juveniles “touched” by the criminal system. She spoke about the role of pastors in helping communities address trauma.
Russell Morris, MA., NCSP Clinical/School Psychologist, Philadelphia School District, presented LATO’s current initiative to help support children functioning within a school setting, who have been affected by complex trauma. This approach entails modifying IEP’s to become trauma sensitive, along with a trauma focused integrative approach within the school, in this study for Philadelphia’s Public Schools.
The afternoon session presented LATO’s Teen Prevention Project and Public Service Announcement (PSA) contest to over seventy-five teens who, along with their counselors and teachers, had attended the day’s events. LATO’s PSA contest was open to all Philadelphia high school students. This year our goal was to make teens aware that they have a role in stopping sex trafficking and to empower them to play a part in protecting themselves, and each other. Michelle L. Morgan, Assistant United States Attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who prosecutes sex crimes involving minor and adult victims, spoke passionately to the teens about CSEC and the trauma it causes. Her comments to them instilled confidence in the efforts that are being made to protect and support them, and more importantly, inspired them to reflect and act on
the agency they possess to play an active role in combating this problem in society.
After viewing LATO’s DVD about the luring tactics of pimps and traffickers, Urban Improv, the special feature of the conference, underscored the day’s events. The company used improvisational theater and its interactional program to help the teens work through difficult issues, empower them, and decrease their vulnerability to becoming victimized. The teens’ response and participation in the skit of a “real life rehearsal” for dealing with depression, was enthusiastic and showed how very capable teens are of showing compassion and empathy, and understanding their responsibility for each other. The company is based in Boston, MA. It has worked with teens for over twenty years, and has been endorsed by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., in his book, The Body Keeps The Score. Dr. van der Kolk is the founder of The Trauma Center in Boston, MA.
The conference ended on a high note, with Urban Improv conducting a workshop to support the teens in using their creativity to begin developing a PSA regarding CSEC and trauma. The goal was to create a storyline that would attract the attention of other teens, who are the targets of pimps and traffickers.