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Human Trafficking Youth Ambassador Mckenna Pressley

Dec 28, 2018 11:00AM ● By Emily Miranda

Making a Difference

January 2019
Story by Emily Miranda
Photo by Kelli Avila

IT STARTED WITH her passion for human rights. Redwood high school student McKenna Pressley knew human trafficking existed, but she never truly understood the weight of the problem until two years ago. She had gone to Thailand on a short-term trip to work at an orphanage that housed children with HIV and AIDS, discovering the dark truth behind their infections. Many of the children were infected due to pasts in sex trafficking. Seeing the effects firsthand made it personal for her. 

“It’s easy to think that somewhere in another country people are being exploited for money. But getting to know these beautiful, kind children with their backgrounds of being trafficked really changed my perspective,” she says. Pressley recalls how her initial conviction quickly evolved from, “This is an issue someone needs to do something about,” into “I need to do everything I can about
this now.” 

On her return from Thailand, Pressley dove into learning everything she could about the horrific truth of human trafficking and how to raise awareness. She learned how serious the issue was not only in other countries, but here in the United States. This spurred her to become a human trafficking youth ambassador and develop an organization at her high school called Live 2 Free to spread awareness on campus. 

“Most of my peers think human trafficking happens in less developed countries, so they are typically surprised to learn how frequently it happens here in the United States, and even in Tulare County,” Pressley explains. She readily dialogs with other students, organizes volunteer events through Live 2 Free and gives presentations to educate others on warning signs to look for in victims.

If you suspect someone is being trafficked, the simplest and most anonymous way to report your suspicions is to contact a hotline. General signs can include abnormal personal behavior, declining mental health, tattoos that indicate ownership, unusual work hours and having multiple phones. 

There are also resources for those at risk for being trafficked. Some people are more at risk than others, but Pressley warns that “everyone is at risk for being trafficked, especially adolescents between the age of 12 and 14 years old.” 

A crucial resource for at-risk youth is education. This can be as easy as creating an open dialog on the issue of trafficking. Talking about the issue strengthens prevention by building up awareness. 

“Another resource is kindness,” continues Pressley. “In many cases, traffickers lure their victims in by giving them ‘love’ and validation that they aren’t getting elsewhere. This enables the traffickers to manipulate their victims and maintain a hold over them. So, being kind and loving to others is one way to prevent human trafficking.”

Pressley advises that if you believe someone is at risk, contact Family Services of Tulare County, or call 911 if it is an emergency.

“Anyone can help stop human trafficking,” she says. 

Her determination derives from her passionate love of humanity. “I love people too much to sit back and watch something like this happen,” she says. “Even though I can’t end this crime alone, it is a privilege to be able to participate in the advocacy against it.”  

Her favorite part about being a human trafficking youth ambassador is the people she meets who, like herself, are striving to make a difference. “They are really inspiring, which gives me hope,” she ends. •


Family Services of Tulare County: (559) 741-7310

24-Hour Hotlines: 

Visalia Rape Hotline: (559) 732-7273 

National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888