Teen sexual assault prevention enforced in California

After Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León established the ‘Yes Means Yes’ affirmative consent law at the college level last year, his natural next step was to expand the concept to California high schools. The democratic leader of the state’s 24th district implemented Senate Bill 695 at the beginning of the year, which states all high schools that require a health course for graduation must teach sexual assault and violence prevention.

“[de León] feels a really strong connection with the issue in terms of assault and women, and feels a strong sense that men need to step up and have this conversation,” de León’s Senior Education Consultant Kimberly Rodriguez said. “It shouldn’t just be a women’s issue. It should really be both genders embracing it.”

The original bill and the high school adaptation that followed were spurred by de León’s concern for his then college-aged daughter. The bill, which was supported by nine organizations, specifies classes must teach different forms of sexual harassment and violence, prevention strategies, ways to report cases and resources for victims.

vs 695 too

Senate Bill 695 was supported by nine organizations. Information provided by Tanya Lieberman of the Assembly Education Committee. (Gina Ender Graphic)

Rodriguez said though not all schools have health courses, the three largest districts in the state, of which Los Angeles Unified is the first, do require the class for graduation. She said long term, de León hopes the bill will establish healthy relationships and help inform students about the law’s existence.

In hopes of beginning this education earlier, Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair Hannah-Beth Jackson, who worked alongside de León in implementing bill 695, is working on a new law. Bill 1435 proposes relationship courses begin in middle schools. Rodriguez said she believes this age is not too early to instill respectful and healthy relationships as it will help to prepare students for their interactions in high school, college and beyond.

“You should [know] how to deal with your peers and how to treat each others before you get [to high school],” Rodriguez said.

sexual assualt graphic

From left to right, statistics provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. Department of Justice and American Association of University Women.  (Gina Ender Graphic)

Michael Wagner, Monrovia High School’s Health and Wellness teacher for the past 12 years, said he has been teaching these values for as long as he has been an educator. He said he instills in his students that no matter what decisions they make, they have to care about other people.

“I hope [other educators] understand there are certain things that need to be covered, whether you’re uncomfortable with them or not, and we need to leave our private agendas at home and try to teach,” Wagner said.


(Gina Ender Photo)

Wagner said he believes the new bill will be beneficial because it will universalize the curriculum in all high schools.

“It’s not going to be based on the homophobic teacher that doesn’t want to talk about gender issues, or it’s not going to be based on the person who is pushing gay agenda,” he said. “The playing field is going to be level.”

He said while the implementation may take up to a year to reach its full effect, the law will quickly stir important discussions in district offices. He said for years, there were never clear specifications of what to teach beside a basic outline, which left the standards up to teachers’ interpretations. He said the new law should enforce the importance of sharing all information with students regardless of a teacher’s comfort level.

“Math teachers aren’t going to leave something out if they are not good at it, and I think that’s what we’ve seen in health for years,” Wagner said.

Wagner said Monrovia High anticipates eliminating the health requirement in the future as many other schools have done. If that happens, he said he will incorporate the information he teaches in his health class in biology or physical education.

Azusa High School stopped requiring a health course for graduation several years ago. The school’s health clerk, Rose Araiza, said students have turned to her with sexual education questions since then. She said she believes bringing back the class would be beneficial to teach students about abuse sexually, mentally and physically.

“Health would cover all of that,” Araiza said. “It would be an asset to the kids.”


(Gina Ender Photo)

She said she has multiple students confide problems concerning romantic and familial relationships in her and the school psychologist. She said there is a general lack of education about sex among many students, especially regarding abuse and protection.

Brittany VanDeVrugt, a Heritage High School junior, said her experience with health class was minimal. She said she was encouraged by her teachers her freshman year to take a fast track health class which she attended twice a week for a semester and then tested out of the second semester. She said she believes it would be beneficial for students to take more in-depth courses to learn about sexual harassment so they are able to identify it when they see it.

“I would tell [other students] to understand what sexual harassment is and the severity of the situation,” VanDeVrugt said. “People blow it over like it’s nothing, but it’s not always nothing.”

VanDeVrugt said she believes students often overlook the seriousness of sexual assault, but said a classroom setting would change students’ perspectives. She said in her experience, most teachers avoid having conversations about touchy sex education topics.

“It’s kind of like a ‘don’t go there’ region,” she said.

She said if she were to have questions concerning sex education, she would most likely turn to a book before a person. She said most teachers treat the topic as taboo, and she thinks they would want her to be more private about her questions than she would like to be.

health 2

(Gina Ender Photo)

Tahquitz High School senior Mady Martinez said she has been informed of the medical aspects of a sex education in anatomy class and has been told about the social aspects in psychology class, but has not had a formal health class since elementary school.

“I know right from wrong, but I was never taught,” Martinez said.

Martinez said she believes it is necessary for students her age to learn about the emotional aspects of sex education. She said Tahquitz offers assemblies about bullying, and she thinks dedicating a class period every so often for a sexual assault assembly would be beneficial.

“I think if we can cover social abuse, I don’t see why we couldn’t cover sexual abuse.”

“I think if we can cover social abuse, I don’t see why we couldn’t cover sexual abuse,” she said.

Hemet High School senior Saige Darrow said her school gave her a choice between taking health and AVID, a college preparatory class, as a freshman. She said she chose to take AVID, but she wishes she would have taken health because she now feels uninformed.

“I think there’s a lot of things that I could have learned that I did not learn,” Darrow said.

She said as she never received instruction from a health class, she would not feel comfortable approaching a teacher with questions about sex education and would prefer to talk to her parents. She said she talks with her friends about issues such as abuse and harassment occasionally, but it is not a frequent topic.

“It’s not a regular discussion,” Darrow said. “It’s talked about, but not as much as it should be.”

For confidential counseling regarding sexual assault, call 800.656.4673 or visit Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.


California’s public libraries resilient despite lacking funds

In response to California budget deficits in 2011, Governor Brown cut direct state funding from public libraries, slashing funds from the California Library Services Act (CLSA), the Public Library Foundation and the state literacy program. Since then, California’s legislators have gradually allotted funding back into the state library fund, but these funds come with restrictions that inhibit local libraries’ freedom to decide how to use the money for improvements.

With a lack of direct state funding, Azusa City Librarian Reed Strege has seen public libraries suffer, facing cutbacks in the form of fewer full-time staff members and decreased hours.


Established in 1959, the Azusa City Library is located down the street from Azusa City Hall. Photo by Maureen Wolff

“They used to just write everybody a check, but they don’t do that anymore. It’s competitive, and you write grants,” said Strege.

Governor Jerry Brown’s California budget proposal for education in fiscal year 2016-2017 adds $4.8 million in funding for public libraries. About $1.8 million of this sum will be added to the state library budget baseline. The remaining $3 million will be a one-time fund for the upcoming year, intended to help libraries move toward improved technology and digitalization.

budget increases

Governor Brown’s budget proposal adds almost $4.8 million to one-time and ongoing funds to state libraries via the California Library Services Act. Courtesy of the California Department of Finance.

“It probably sounds like a lot of money, but if you really think about it, it’s really not,” said Strege. He explained that once distributed, state funding doesn’t go very far among public libraries.

Of the $170.7 billion expenditure budget proposal, Governor Brown allots approximately $51.6 million total for the State Library Fund—about .03% of California’s budget.

library budget

The total funding for California’s libraries for fiscal year 2016-2017 is projected to be approximately $51.6 million. Courtesy of the California Department of Finance

Like other public libraries, the Azusa branch must use its grant-awarded funds for projects that are specifically delineated by the state. Though limited in amount and scope, state funding for the Azusa City Library has been effectively put to use in areas such as the library’s adult literacy program and the improvement of broadband internet networks.

Often, additions to state library funding are not given through permanent additions to the budget baseline. Instead, much of state funding comes in the form of one-time grants, the money from which must be used up for a specific project within the year it is given. Neighborhood Connections is one of Azusa’s current programs that is funded by a one-year grant, with funding coming from federally-based Library Services and Technology Act (LTSA) money that has been filtered through the states. The program allows the Azusa community members to consult with a bilingual Community Resource Specialist who can help provide information about health care, housing, employment and more.


Photo by Maureen Wolff

Seeking to offer its visitors up-to-date content and programs, the Azusa City Library branch offers free WiFi and access to computers. While Strege emphasized that it’s the people themselves that make the libary thrive, he also stated that budget limitations can inhibit access to key resources. Other than the addition of desktop computers, Strege said that the library looks much the same as it did when it opened it 1959. He pointed to poor lighting, scuffed-up bottoms of doors, and worn-out carpets in the library classroom.

“We can get by day to day with the money that we have,” he offered, citing the library’s offering of after-school tutoring, children’s story time, citizenship classes and computer workshops. But when it comes to facility improvements, the money just isn’t available in the city or state budget.

funding azusa

Courtesy of Maureen Wolff

The city of Azusa granted the library just over one million dollars for the past fiscal year, and as of 2013-2014 estimates, about 91 percent of the library’s funding is local. In addition to funding from the city, the library receives grants from the Canyon City Foundation, an Azusa-based foundation that supports arts and education.

Less than one percent of the Azusa City Library’s funding coming from the state. Because this small allocation of state funding comes with such strict parameters, sometimes the city’s budget is simply insufficient to address the scope of the local library’s needs.

Chair of the California Library Association’s Advocacy and Legislation Committee Sara Jones points to another issue facing public libraries: the disparity in support and resource distribution between cities and counties across California. While the library Jones directs—the Marin County Free Library—is amply supported, areas such as Kern County struggle to maintain taxpayer support.

While state funding additions will not solve all problems, Jones said, they can help build momentum. “The greatest extent it has is to leverage collaboration and cooperation,” she offered, believing that the real strength in libraries does not come from money, but from librarian and citizen advocacy.

While Strege allows that the Azusa library building is “badly outdated,” he hopes that the city will eventually prioritize funds to replace the facilities. Despite the lack of funds, Strege looks forward to future programs and improvements.


Photo by Maureen Wolff

“I think the library is moving more toward an educational model and a community meeting space,” said Strege. “I would like to see more classes about more topics, and more direct assistance programs to help people learn about important topics like technology, personal finance, health…We do a lot right now, especially with how little time and money we have, but I think we could do more.”

Director of the American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries Miguel Figueroa said that while economic downturn has had negative effects on state and federal funding for libraries, California’s libraries are on the forefront of adapting their roles to reflect larger trends.

“The future is technology, but it’s also lots of other changes that are happening,” said Figueroa, asserting that many of the innovations happening in the nation’s libraries are not technologically based. While libraries are still grounded in the culture and rhythms of sharing information, many are encouraging not only reading, but doing. Many libraries are providing what Figueroa calls “maker spaces,” allotting room within their facilities for visitors to create and experience learning and expression beyond books.

Public libraries have adapted to a lack of funding with agility, but the fight to save state funding for public libraries is far from over. Governor Brown’s 2016-2017 budget—and specifically his allotment for state library funding—remain open to revision. His proposals for state library funds are expected to be reviewed by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance on May 4, according to a CLA press release.


Children use the computers in the youth section of the Azusa City Library. Photo by Maureen Wolff

In the meantime, Governor Brown has expressed strong support for California’s libraries, declaring April 10-16 of this year “California Library Week.” He stated in a proclamation, “California’s 1,112 libraries provide a multiplicity of important community functions: fostering a love of reading in people of all ages and walks of life, providing academic support to schoolchildren, teaching literacy skills to adults and serving as a safe haven and connection to social support for our most vulnerable citizens…I applaud all of our public libraries’ efforts to modernize their services, and my budget continues to provide support for library broadband access.”

CLA is calling on all state library supporters to write to legislators on the budget subcommittee, asking them to approve funding proposals and to allocations additional funds for broadband connection grants and adult literacy programs. The budget will receive final approval this summer.




Social media’s “in” to human trafficking

The number of people joining social media is increasing every year. Just from 2015 to early 2016, there has already been a 17% increase of social media users.

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The increase of users on social media

Social media is making a name for itself in the younger generation. Teenagers are able to build their profile in ways to shape their reputations and only expose information they want the public to believe about them.

Not only is social media giving teenagers this power to portray their image a certain way to the world, but human traffickers are doing the same thing. Social media has opened up a whole new world for traffickers.

According to United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is the act of gathering, moving, receiving, or keeping human beings by threat, force, coercion, or deception, for exploitative purposes. This includes “the exploitation of prostitution of other or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

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The University of Southern California has done a study on how traffickers have adapted quickly to the 21st century global landscape. The study states, “While the rapid diffusion of digital technologies like mobile phones, social networking sites, and the Internet has provided significant benefits to society, new channels and opportunities for exploitation have also emerged. Increasingly, the business of human trafficking is taking place online and over mobile phones.”

Living in Southern California the term “sex trafficking” is not common in our vocabulary. I personally thought trafficking only happened in countries outside of the United States until I started doing more research.

There was a report done by Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force  that talks about how human trafficking is done throughout Orange County in hotels and homes that start from the social media platform. This is also confirmed by the womens funding network who say that media is actually a popular marketing tool to lure in young women.


Photo taken by Morgan Eisenga

“Social and technological platforms allow predators to operate behind anonymity and false identies which is why they use it,” said Founder and CEO of Redeeming Love Charlene Heydorn. “If they can get a vulnerable young person to believe and trust them behind the veil of the internet, then manipulation and coercion become easy.”

Citizen for Community Values shows that the average age of victims is between 11-14. About 80% of the the victims are of women and 70% are trafficked into the sex industry.

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“A majority of the victims that come to Community Service Programs are between the ages of 13-21. They were tricked into believing that they were doing work for a modeling agency and end up getting trapped by their trafficker and will do anything to keep their family out of danger,” said Community Service Programs Supervisor of the Human Trafficking Program Nikki Hutchinson.

These young girls are lured in by their trafficker’s fake social media account. They become excited about potenial opportunities with a “modeling agenecy” or even being involved romactically with a trafickker who is in fact posing as a loving partner.

“These girls begin to feel they are being valued, special, or that they can make a lot of money without their parent’s help,” said Rapha House International Director of Client Services Jen Osgood.


Photo taken by Morgan Eisenga

The different social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat now offer private messaging. The traffickers are easily able to reach out to potential victims through messages. According to News Trust, they say the growing trend in the United States right now is that traffickers use WhatsApp or Snapchat where messages disappear over time.

The website Backpage is also used by sex traffickers. Backpage is an adevertising website that provides a variety of different job listings that range from sells, bartending and different types of services. Backpage makes up 80 percent of all online prostitution and revenue. There are certain key words that the traffickers will use in the ads to grab a girl’s attention. The traffickers can also change the words from time to time.

“Traffickers really use any type of social media to their benefit and almost any social media can be used by traffickers to connect with potential victims,” said Osgood.

Some girls become connected to their trafficker through social media because they are seeking attention and affirmation. The trafficker then in a sense “rescues” them by assuring that they can give the young girls everything they are searching for.

“The trafficker becomes very good at brainwashing the younger girls into promising them a family, love and even allowing the girls to refer to them as ‘daddy,'” said Hutchinson.


Photo taken by Morgan Eisenga

I had the oppurtunity to talk with Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney and Human Trafficking Unit Coordinator, Jane Creighton about what she has seen in Los Angeles regarding sex trafficking through the different platforms of social media.

She starts off by telling me about an encounter she had a few years ago with a female college student who was caught up in the scam/manipulation of trafficking. This college student attended a good college and had family support. The victim did not come forward because she was threatened by her trafficker. The only way the victim got away is because her trafficker was caught up in a federal drug sting.

“We have to keep in mind after the victims are captured, their traffickers already have a sense of who they are through their social media accounts. In this case it would be advised that the girls need somehow detach from social media,” said Creighton.

Social media is growing every day and young girls need to become more cautious of how they expose themselves on social media and who they might interact with.

“Because of the many ways traffickers are able to get connected with young girls through social media, we must prevent trafficking through awareness and education,” said A21 Global Volunteer Coordinator, Katie Fillinger. “We have created presentations and curriculum for schools, orphanages, and universities. Young people are now being equipped with strategies to avoid becoming a victim of human trafficking.”


Picture taken by Morgan Eisenga

The goal of A21 is to use social media platforms for potential victims to prevent trafficking before it even begins. This education empoweres the rising generation to be aware of the media propaganda used by the sex trafickking industry. 


Photo taken by Morgan Eisenga

Sex trafficking is happening daily, not only globally, but right here in Southern California. These statistics and knowledge do not need to depress us, but empower people to create change and be more aware of how they present themseleves on social media platforms.

The Columbus Dispatch says, “We have come a long way, but we can not be happy where we are.”




California suspends the CAHSEE

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Amid the numerous laws that are set to take effect this year, one of these included the suspension of the California High School Exit Exam, or the CAHSEE. Passing this test, which is typically given to students in 10th grade, has been one of the requirements in getting a high school diploma.

Senator Carol Liu introduced the bill, called SB- 172,  in February 2015 and it was signed by Governor Jerry Brown later that year in October. Sen. Liu’s Education Policy Adviser Ed Honowitz explained that the bill came out of a need to adjust testing in light of the new Common Core implementation.

“Students were being taught based on Common Core standards but the CAHSEE test was not aligned to those standards, so that was where the underlining issue was. Since it was no longer aligned with what the kids were learning, it didn’t seem to be a sort of high stakes sort of test to give to people,” Honowitz said.

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Common Core is, according to their website, “a set of clear college- and career- ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Other states began implementing Common Core standards in 2010 and California followed suit in 2012.  With these new changes in learning standards, there was a new disconnect forming between what students were learning in the classroom and what they were being tested on in the CAHSEE. SB- 172 gives California more time to close that gap.

“The bill was really to create a hiatus in the testing. It’s giving the state a chance to make some determination on what would be the next version of a high school exit exam and what would be appropriate given the change in the state standards and such,” Honowitz explained.

Although the issue of dealing with the relationship between Common Core and the CAHSEE was the main one to be tackled, there were other concerns that were being raised in terms of students who were not able to get their high school diploma because they had not passed the exam.

“There was some emergency legislation passed that said that if you passed all of your coursework and met all of the other state and district requirements but didn’t pass the CAHSEE, you should still be able to get your diploma,” Honowitz said.

John Marshall High School (Photo: Camille Frigillana)

John Marshall High School (Photo: Camille Frigillana)

For Adriana Carovska, an 11th grade student at Los Angeles’s John Marshall High School, it does not seem fair to her that people are able to get their diplomas without passing the CAHSEE test.

“I am a terrible test taker so I hate tests and I also don’t like how teachers base your intelligence on tests. But at the same time, I think that everyone could pass the CAHSEE because it’s just that easy of a test. Plus, I think that it’s a good wake up call for students who aren’t taking school seriously that tests actually do matter,” Carovska said.

But Honowitz argued that the test can also be difficult for those who are not proficient enough in a certain subject because of reasons beyond their control.

“In some cases you had English learners who were able to pass everything except the English Language portion. A lot of them haven’t been in the country long enough to have all of the skills required to do that,” Honowitz said.

The CAHSEE, according the the CDE website, consisted of two multiple choice sections involving English language and mathematics. In addition to the English multiple choice section, students must also write an essay in response to a specific prompt.  The maximum points that a student can get in each section is 450, and students must get at least 350 points in those sections in order to pass the entire test.

“The reading portion included vocabulary; reading comprehension; analysis of information and literary texts. The writing portion covered writing strategies, applications, and conventions. The writing task called for students to provide a written response to literature, to an informational passage, or to a writing prompt.

The mathematics part included statistics; data analysis and probability; number sense; measurement and geometry; mathematical reasoning; and algebra. Students were required to demonstrate strong computational skills and a foundation in arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions, and percentages.”


Between the years of 2006-2015, an average of 78.58% of English learners passed the CAHSEE as a whole. An average of 48.9% of English learners passed the English language portion of the test, while 61.98% passed mathematics.

This table depicts, by demographic, the percentage of students who passed the CAHSEE between 2006-2015 (Courtesy cahsee.cde.ca.gov)

This table depicts, by demographic, the percentage of students who passed the CAHSEE between 2006-2015 (Courtesy cahsee.cde.ca.gov)

Honowitz believes that the circumstances that certain students are in can prove to be a disadvantage when it came to taking the CAHSEE, and that by failing the test can have serious consequences.

“The negative repercussions of not having a high school diploma kind of cuts off access for a lot of people to a whole set of things including additional education options or entering the military. There were people that had their lives significantly changed based on a couple of points on a test when they had essentially passed their other requirements,” Honowitz explained.

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Photo: Camille Frigillana

With SB- 172, students who were in the graduating class of 2003-2004 and other subsequent years are now able to get their high school diploma so long as they had fulfilled other requirements needed from the school and the district.

The bill will span over three years, and during this time a committee consisting of those part of the CDE will meet and formulate a new test that will better align with the Common Core standards.

According to the bill itself, SB- 172 “would add a new requirement, that the Superintendent [of the CDE] convene an advisory panel consisting of specified individuals to provide recommendations to the Superintendent on the continuation of the high school exit examination and on alternative pathways to satisfy specified high school graduation requirements, to those recommendations to be submitted by the Superintendent.”

“That group has been meeting and they are doing some work to try and determine what should be the next step and what would be aligned to the new California content standards,” Honowitz explained.

Even though there is no official testing that high school students need to pass in order to graduate, the possibility isn’t counted out for the future. Carovska hopes that some sort of testing will start up again.

“High school isn’t a joke, and people need to learn that early on. Sophomores should have some kind of wake up call, and one that’s actually on a sophomore learning level instead of it being super easy like the CAHSEE was,” Carovska said.

Uber Reaches $100 Million Settlement

maxresdefaultOn Thursday Uber announced their plans to settle lawsuits in California and Massachusetts from drivers who were hoping to be considered employees rather than contractors.

In response, Uber will pay $100 million to the drivers in these two states and has agreed to ease control over their drivers.

The drivers will remain independent contractors, and will not be considered employees.

In an article from the Los Angeles Times, Uber drivers expressed their mixed feelings about the decision.

For Uber driver Moon Lee, remaining an independent contractor is preferred because it allows him to act as a small business, without the responsibilities of running one.

Uber_ride_Bogota_(10277864666).jpgOn the other hand, Uber driver Arthur Bard remains conflicted on the settlement due to his wife’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma. While he is glad that remaining an independent contractor allows him to have control his own schedule, he is forced to work despite his wife’s illness as he does not have the same benefits of an employee, such as paid time off.

The lawsuit also allows Uber drivers to now solicit tips, and will protect them from being “fired” without warning in.

As with anything,  there are both positive and negative aspects of the settlement. However, Uber drivers remain hopeful that in the end the settlement will work to their advantage.