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Webinar Series 2023 Speaker Bios

Speakers listed in alphabetical order.

Aja Houle is a human trafficking survivor, mother of four, advocate, and author. A Public Affairs candidate, she graduated from the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley.

On her journey, she came to realize the importance of spreading awareness about combating trafficking. She also came to acknowledge how valuable survivor empowerment is and its extraordinary capability to spread throughout communities. Public Affairs has become an area of focus in her life, because trafficking policies do not currently reflect fair & just policy that survivors deserve.

Aja is passionate about working together in communities at city-levels to stand for anti-trafficking policies through sharing her experience as a professional in the anti-trafficking field as well as her lived experience. She has dedicated her life to preventative & reparative efforts for all forms of trafficking.

Alia Dewees is a dedicated advocate and survivor working to end human trafficking and empower others impacted by this violation of human rights. She is dedicated to creating safe, sustainable communities through education, advocacy, service provision, and social justice. Through her professional knowledge, lived experience, and compassion, she works both locally and nationally to make lasting impacts on the lives of children experiencing trafficking through specialized training and safe housing development.

Headshot of April Grayson with pronouns she/her/they/theirs

Keynote Presenter

April Grayson is a formerly incarcerated woman who spent a lot of time in systems that harmed her rather than helping her escape cycles of abuse, exploitation, and the street economy. April understands firsthand the criminalization of women of color for the ways they survive and the harm caused by various systems. Based on her own childhood experience and the lack of advocates, April is a strong advocate for children and youth caught in the pipeline to prison. 

She works to shed light on mass incarceration as a modern form of slavery and the particular ways in which girls and young women of color are criminalized. April’s current role at the Young Women’s Freedom Center is to build a statewide coalition of formerly incarcerated cis and trans women and girls, trans men and boys, and gender-expansive people to advocate and lead policy and systems change across California.

Cari Herthel is the Chair of the Coalition to End Human Trafficking in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and the Vice Chair of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County. Cari is a survivor leader, speaker, and resource specialist. Following her recovery from sexual exploitation and labor trafficking, she has worked for 27 years as a Recovery Resource Specialist in the areas of trauma, drugs and alcohol. Her expertise includes complex intergenerational trauma. Due to Cari’s personal experience as a child of the California Welfare System, she focuses much of her work on issues concerning the welfare of children. Agencies across the nation seek her advice and consultancy to create Native American policies and procedures for children regarding anti-human trafficking education and human trafficking prevention. She is on the advisory leadership council of Sovereign Bodies Institute, a consultant for The National Center for Youth Law and expert speaker and consultant for the Rising United Leadership Program (a partnership program between United Way Worldwide and Rising Worldwide).

Headshot of Catie Hart with pronouns she/hers

Catie Hart, B.A., was born & raised in Boulder Colorado, and moved to the Bay Area in 1998. She is the survivor of seven years of sexual exploitation. Since finding freedom, she has earned a Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, is the co-founder of an anti-trafficking curriculum for youth, and has become a front-end software developer. Catie currently teaches other survivors how to code in Oakland, CA.

Headshot of Dawn Allen with pronouns she/hers

Dawn Allen sees life from a healing-centered perspective and is a strong believer of the collective community method. Dawn finds fulfillment in assisting others on their journey. She aspires to raise awareness about human trafficking by sharing her experience and testimony as a survivor. Dawn intends to contribute to the effort to create a more powerful anti-trafficking movement by concentrating on offering advice to providers on how to be more effective with survivor-centered and trauma-informed methods. Dawn is particularly interested in how different family systems are impacted and how to support families in their efforts to heal and rebuild.

Jess Torres is a Trans Indigenous writer, educator and organizer dedicated to community building, direct action and policy work for the marginalized and criminalized. They are of Lenca linage born on the stretch of earth now called El Salvador; displaced on unceded Matinecock land in so-called NYC as an “undocumented” immigrant for twenty five years. Jess is a systems-impacted youth with lived experience of child trafficking.

Today, Jess resides on Tongva territory or colonially known as Long Beach, CA. They are a birth and abortion doula, prison abolitionist and harm reductionist whose activism centralizes community health based economic justice, healing justice, disability justice, Indigenous sovereignty , Trans liberation, and the dignity, and self-determination of people impacted by drug use.

Their autonomous organizing prioritizes unhoused QTBIPOC through the distribution of food, clothing, hygiene kits, condom/syringe/narcan/testing strips, and other harm reduction supplies. Holding healing circles for youth who identify as survivors of interpersonal, community and/or state violence They facilitate teach-in’s /skill shares, curate experiences of JOY, and provide mentorship to child trafficking survivors. They have also spent many years protecting first nation People’s rights to their connection to the land, our culture, language and ceremonies. They work to protect the fragile ecosystems and clean water that wildlife and people depend on and seek justice for MMIW.

Jess brings their knowledge of community control over land, community-serving land use, and water rights. In addition to this work, Jess has fifteen years of advocacy in the anti-trafficking and sex worker rights movement, serving in the following leadership roles: Training/Technical Assistance, Communications, Capacity Building and Policy and Program Development consultant and later, as the Artisan Relations and In-House Production team manager, lead product developer and social justice communications specialist with The Little Market, the Survivor Leadership Program Coordinator at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) co-coordinating a self-determination group for LA- based labor trafficking survivors and coordinating a national human trafficking survivor network organizing for social chafe rooted in labor rights, peer developed programming and outreach, displacement/im/migration protections, harm reduction, de/anti criminalization, racial, gender and sexuality equity. They are a Trainer and Communications Specialist with Rising Worldwide, a standing Consultant with Preventing and Addressing Child Trafficking (PACT), the former Community Liaison for the NYC Mayor’s Office to End Gender-Based Violence, a Qns/BK Farmers Market Manager with GrowNYC and Facilitator with Grow to Learn; creating dozens of sustainable gardens in NYC public schools and participating in various water rights actions and food sovereignty efforts.

Using an anti-oppression framework and a social justice lens, Jess serves as a guest lecturer in academic spaces, a keynote speaker, and as an independent trainer and consultant. They have won several awards and their work is recognized by the City of Los Angeles and the State of CA. They have also written and co-authored various human rights and public health-based state and federal legislation, reports, essays, articles, curricula, poetry, and more. Jess collaborate with various agencies and US-based/International nonprofits to build diverse anti-trafficking and harm reduction initiatives and programs, in addition to facilitating workshops at various conferences and symposia, including work with the TransLatin@ Coalition, the Women’s Foundation of CA, the ACLU, and the United Nations.

Josie Feemster – Panel Moderator

Meet Josie Feemster, a passionate human trafficking activist whose personal journey of resilience and expertise in the field has significantly impacted many lives. Overcoming various adversities, Josie knew she was destined to make a difference in the lives of those who shared similar experiences.

Josie's dream of becoming a trainer and speaker in the field of survivor-empowerment has been fulfilled, and her poise and perspective bring a refreshing contribution to the movement. For years, she has provided direct service and support to survivors of trafficking. However, in 2020, she joined the Child Trafficking Response team with California's Department of Social Services as a government policy analyst.

Josie aims to publish a memoir in the coming years and continue spreading a message of freedom and justice for survivors of trauma throughout the country. Alongside her activism, Josie is a wife, mother, photographer, and coffee connoisseur whose greatest joy is spending time with her family.

Josie has had the privilege of speaking to various organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office for Victims of Crime, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center, the Judicial Council of California, and many more. Her clients appreciate her insightful contributions, making her one of the most sought-after speakers in the field.

Bio coming soon.

Keynote Presenter

Raechel Ibarra is an indigenous advocate residing on the traditional homelands of the Nisenan and Miwok people in Northern California. In her current role as a Case Manager at a non-profit law firm, Raechel supports a specialized caseload of sexually exploited youth in foster care. In this role, she focuses on the importance of cultural and traditional healing for system-involved youth.  Raechel has over seven years experience providing direct client services and advocacy. Through her lived and professional experience, she realized how the intersections of violence are directly related to the foster care pipelines. Additionally, Ms. Ibarra provides consulting services to CBOs, policy makers, probation departments, and child/family courts helping them understand the experiences and needs of system-involved youth.

Reshay Collier is a training associate at WestCoast Children’s Clinic providing training about youth who experience commercial sexual exploitation to caregivers and providers throughout the state of California. Additionally, Reshay has been a Survivor Leader for the past 7 years with Love Never Fails. An organization that fights against human trafficking, along with providing housing services to youth, women and men who have been exploited. Reshay is also an active member of the California CSEC Advisory board where she sits among other lived experience experts who consult, create and educate other organizations on the subjects of exploitation. Reshay believes that every experience is important and coming together collectively will create a necessary change.

Ummra Hang is a second generation Cambodian American, consultant, advocate, trainer, and speaker born and raised in Oakland, CA. She is dedicated to working with those who have been impacted by child sexual exploitation as well as formerly incarcerated people. Ms. Hang has an M.S.W. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a B.A. in Psychology from San José State University. She focuses on research and education in anti-trafficking, particularly around the importance of trauma, the impact of narratives that are placed on people, and language/label usage. She uses her academic and lived experiences to promote the power of healing from trauma through agency, self-empowerment, and pursuing authentic selves to realize one's passions and goals for self-sufficiency. Ms. Hang shares her story to uplift the many others who are still silent and continue breaking barriers to help others reach a place of healing and not only survive but thrive.