By Brooke Self Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
About 300 teenage girls from 13 local schools met at Victor Valley College on Friday to participate in the eighth-annual "Celebration of Women in Mathematics and Science," according to the conference organizer.
Opal Singleton, an anti-human trafficking advocate, was the keynote speaker and told the teens that human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America, with California often being the No. 1 state where it occurs.
She said human trafficking was relevant to the conference theme because the girls in attendance would be the future crime scene investigators, computer analysts, law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
Middle school and high school students are also the most vulnerable targets for being trafficked, she said.
"I truly believe this is the only crime I know of that is a crime of psychology," Singleton said. "All too often they get the victim to raise their hands, to say, 'Take me.' These kids actually start to follow down the path of a predator before realizing they're being reeled in."
Singleton is a training outreach coordinator for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and its Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.
She also is the director of development for the local nonprofit Million Kids, and travels extensively spreading her anti-human trafficking message at schools, chambers of commerce, churches, service clubs and nonprofits.
Amari Lindsey, 13, said after the address that she was aware of an eighth-grade girl at her school last year who might have been involved in prostitution.
The young girl was pregnant and had already had one abortion, she said.
"This was really cool," Amari said, "to give women more power. They say women can't do everything as good as men. I think it really empowers them to be more, and become more of themselves."
Amari said she hopes to be a professional basketball player, and that she enjoyed a workshop about forensics at the conference by FBI Special Agent Victoria Milko.
The teens broke out into several workshops at the beginning of the conference that were presented by 11 professional women from the community, according to the event program.
Topics presented included fire science, crime scene investigations, financial planning, city planning, energy management, hydrology, emergency medical response, robotics, aeronautical engineering and the FBI.
"Among all of us, we were just talking right now, and all of us feel more motivated," said Alexis Cox, 17, a senior from Sultana High School. "I had a good day; it was very productive."
The conference was hosted by the Victor Valley chapter of the American Association of University Women, organizer Sylvia Fath said.
Apple Valley High, Columbia Middle, the Lewis Center for Educational Research, Cobalt Middle, Vanguard Preparatory, Ranchero Middle, Hesperia High, Hesperia Junior High, Mojave High, Oak Hills High, Sultana High, Sandia Elementary and Granite Hills High schools all participated.
For more information about the American Association of University Women in the Victor Valley, go to www.aauw-victorvalley.com. For more information about the nonprofit and human trafficking, go to www.millionkids.org. Press (Victorville, Calif.) at www.vvdailypress.com Distributed by MCT Information Services