Jess Torres and Susie Baldwin

Recorded June 11, 2021 Archived June 10, 2021 31:39 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv000866


Jess Torres (35) talks with their friend, colleague and mentor, Dr. Susie Baldwin (54), about their work in anti-trafficking and the vision they have for how the work should evolve. Jess talks about some of their mentors, shares proud moments in their anti-trafficking work, and talks about gaps in anti-trafficking response.

Subject Log / Time Code

Jess explains how they came to anti-trafficking work.
Jess talks about doing community service as a result of their trafficking situation and explains how it led to their interests in social justice.
Jess talks about deriving inspiration from other survivors and survivor leaders. They talk about some of their mentors.
Jess shares their desire to see experts in freedom and healing as part of the collective vision to end human trafficking. "Trauma cannot be the thing that connects us."
Jess talks about speaking at the UN and attending congressional briefings as highlights in their work. They recall having their daughter witness them speak.
Jess talks about the importance of focusing on joy in life and in the work they do.
Jess talks about gaps in human trafficking response: poor health care and not enough prevention work.
Jess shares proud moments in their work, including the free herbal pharmacy they started for black and indigenous people, as well as their work in providing COVID-19 relief to survivors of human trafficking. They also mention their work on the Child Trafficking Prevention Bill and their work with LGBTQ+ youth.
Jess gives advice to leaders and talks about blame culture vs. accountability culture.


  • Jess Torres
  • Susie Baldwin

Recording Location

Virtual Recording


Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:04 Hi, my name is Jess Torres. I am 35 years old. I am located in Long Beach, California. Today is Friday, June 11th, the year 2021 and my recording partner is Doctor Seuss. You both friend, who is my dearest person in Mentor and Kali high on Susie Baldwin. I am 54 years old and today is Friday, June 11th, 2021. I am located in Los Angeles, California, and I'm here with my dear friend recording partner. Just Torres.

00:48 So, I'll be interviewing.

00:54 So miss stopped by asking you some questions. Jess, describe the work that brought you here today. How did you get started?

01:04 So I came to this work by way of lived experience, but I think what brings me here today is my 15 years of experience. As an autonomous Community organizer. The work that I do is defined by a lot of people as activism. But really it's just been about ensuring the health and well-being of other survivors for me. The health and well-being of families Beyond house, sex workers, other migrants and the criminalized by redistributing resources, knowledge and care. And I'm building power through these personal relationships that I felt over years of trust. Mutual Aid and transparency by over the last 10 years. My professional social justice work has aligned with human rights, and public health approach is to anti trafficking and gender equity.

02:05 With areas of focus situated within policy and the Community Development and leadership development. So I would say also that I'm here today because in the words of Alycia Garza movements are the story of how we come together when we come apart. And even when they break our hearts, we recommit to them over and over and over again because they're essential to our survival, and I know that only organizing can come see movement. So that's what I that's what I'm here today. And that's why I've

02:44 That's where I got started.

02:46 Yeah, beautiful way to start a specific person or event. That is fired. You to start the work you're doing. As I said, I'd come to this work by way of the experience. So during my trafficking situation, I was arrested and I was merely an adult. I was seventeen years old and I actually have the option of going to jail or doing community service hours and I have to leave. So I can give him a lot a lot of time. And a lot of hours today is their mental non-profit because we're essentially given a list of things you can pick from and, and that's why I picked, and I did a lot of community service hours. And that kind of learning about how to tend to a community garden in learning how to compost. And then we're going to have to show other people how to do those things off though, and show the people in my community, how to do those things. So,

03:46 Tired, as a marketing manager afterwards and I very established markets in predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods that made them all, you know, EBT Centric markets and they did extremely well and really created its accessibility for the community because this is the place where my social justice education really began because I was like, why on Earth don't we have access to fresh vegetables? Why are we eating chips for breakfast? Why isn't there a place where this is accessible and affordable. So it just again like just started to take to help me put, you know, the experiences, my experiences and those experiences my community and to contact I was really great about this place was that they connected me to a human trafficking nonprofit. Where I later graduated from services, and I was asked to become a mentor and it start like. Peer support groups to become, you know, and an adverb.

04:46 I learned a lot about policy. I learned a lot about organizing. I started doing Direct Services work and then that's her to fly into technical like training and technical assistance work and it's kind of like where I am today and why I am where I am today and I think it just took the money to see something besides, like a troublemaker besides, like, you know, how much ice child to give you the opportunity to work somewhere and warming United identity. And it really just like change the trajectory of my entire existence and I think made all the difference in my life. So I really, I really cry, you know where I am today to that that first interaction with social justice work and and also having that be like something that took me outside of the realm of like victim Services, work specifically, which I think was really good for my

05:42 Healing.

05:47 Or what or who inspires you or keeps you motivated in the work you do.

05:53 Oh my goodness. So many people because these are the folks who are walking to the fire right back with a key setup, St. Lucia. And I honestly believe that these are the folks who are doing the damn thing every damn day, trying to make something of themselves after, like, I'm speakable hard right? Like, doing doing the work. The silent work of of, of living, despite having to move through so much and, and heal through so much. So, other survivors, I really the the, The Guiding Light for me. And I am a firm believer that none of us are free until all of us are free. So I think that other survivors and our Journeys together are really something that keeps me motivated. Another thing in general.

06:53 Or other Survivor leaders, I'm at so many credible mentors throughout this journey. And I mean, like, I can just name for people off the top of my head who like, to change my life. Single-handedly. One of those people was Christa Phelps to the Survivor leader. And there was this thing that I heard a long time ago. That was like, you can't be what you can't see, right? And Presa is a businesswoman. She's a lawyer and she really showed me that survivors could be academic success. Survivors could be lawyers, that survivors can be whatever they wanted to be. And it, she just moved me in that way, because she was able to just to show me something outside of what I had known. Which is like people who were really sick, people who are really struggling, not to say that people don't have their own internal struggle. But do you really showed me that like, it doesn't end here like the story doesn't that this is not the story that the story can keep the keep going and keep evolving and similarly in

07:53 Weather mats for Nola Brantley was like the first person who believed in my ability and my and my strength and respected, my wisdom and part for me was like the first person to Plat for me in this movement and showed me that survivors could be equal parts in the work. And in fact that we could lead the work ourselves. So that was like massive, another big Mentor for me was remember to all who the Survivor leader and has created the pathway for so many after her to just like Ethan work moved along and she just always taught me that we could cross the finish line together and I knew I know there's a lot of in general and every space that we move in her so much ego, right? And I just have never met someone who operated from the place of Life Of Life of a beagle, this mess of of this is, this is not, you know, a race. This is this is a marathon and, and we are going to end

08:53 How many wins until we all win? So I really appreciate having email have taken me under her Wing. But I'm going to do a little plug your SUV because you are definitely one of those people as well in my life to me. You feel like an answered prayer like

09:10 Like a consolation. That guy's me home, you know, the star that likes my path mind you and hope and action and dignity. And you hold you hold Visions for me and sometimes I can't hold for myself. And you make me do my homework even when I don't want to and I just think that like without you I'm going to cry without you. I wouldn't be where I am today. And so I just I love you and I thank you for being a part of my life. And for, I'm for seeing, you know, what I could be when I can see that for myself. So I think that that's mostly what as far as me and what keeps me down.

10:07 A daily inspiration to me as well.

10:24 What do you wish more people knew, or understood about human trafficking and the fight to end it?

10:35 So, I'm going to pull over my dear friend tonight in Wailea. Who's this? Amazing? Samoan leader here in Long Beach and just like, in the words of our people are already expert that oppression. They're born into it. They breathe it. It's literally, like everywhere we go, right.

11:00 That sometimes can access. But I believe that this thing that we have far more work to do is like, how do we build experts in Freedom? How do we build experts and Liberation? How how do we even know that we got into Freedom? If we've never been there before? How we know, we've gotten to Healing, if we've never seen it before and we recognize that our communities have had glimpses of it, right? It looks like no police. It looks like everyone having shelter and enough to eat. It, looks like all of our needs and our health being mad. So this this is a piece of collective visioning but also has to occur amongst our people and amongst our movement as part of the work. And for a lot of indigenous communities be practice is already exist. Like these are practices. We are already trying to hold on to you but

11:55 That being said like, and not be the thing that connects, then it cannot be the thing that we share because honestly it's landed us here. Is he at the place that we're here? And we're no closer to ending anything because what we've done is breed, am a slave, labor force, and my parcel of feminism, and we're no closer to rehabilitative care the population, Health to housing to jobs education or for General, General uplift for survivors of trafficking and I know there are millions of dollars go to the doctor. So, when we talked about collaboration, no asked by stated Freedom has to be the thing that we share.

12:49 Woohoo.

12:53 Do you have any favorite stories from your journey?

12:58 Oh my gosh, I have so many favorite stories. I'll just kind of talked about maybe like a couple of them. I mean, some of the biggest moments for me personally. We're like speaking at the UN. I mean, I am a foster child. I am so much into was undocumented until I was twenty-five years old. I am someone who has been called, like, a problem. My entire life, to have a platform and to have a space for people are, like, we are here to hear from you. We are here to listen to your words with like one of the most incredible healing, you know, moments of my life. It's like, I found my voice and that moment and many times over, but it just felt really great sea Platforms in that way, especially I was sitting at my doctors and it's just an end. It was like we're here to listen to you and it just felt like something has shifted and feminist movement, like something really at that could happen. And I just was a real

13:58 Big moment for me, personally. I also enjoy all of the Congressional briefing as I've been a part of cuz again, it's a way for me to have like skin in my power. I don't ever have a problem talking to my landlord ever again, because if I can talk to my Senator, then I can talk to my landlord is like that. I mean have really build character, even professional and personal development skills. Testifying before Congress was one of the most powerful moments of my life, you know, you're only supposed to have 2 minutes that they gave us 8 because there was just there were just there to witness and that felt so incredible to just to just bend the rules, right? And have to want to hear it. And then I think all of the speaking arrangements are speaking events that my daughter has attended has been really special for me because my daughter is extremely proud of who I am. And that's all I've ever wanted in my life.

14:58 Really making my feelings, you know, her my, my my feelings. Her floors has been like the most incredible gift that I could have ever received an offer to this this child, because it really is breaking into generational. Trauma bonds, like no other. And then another huge piece was creating like a, a policy Academy and I having other folks like essentially like I'm partying all the wisdom that I have to get power to speak to their, you know, Senators their Congress people. And in finding even folks who are ESL, right? Finding the power, finding the string, find the words to just to just to say and articulate, you know, what their needs were. And as, as as as citizens of this country and of their of their constituents of their of their, you know,

15:58 Other towns like that was huge just to see if people like Jen. And their power was, was one of the most incredible piece has no love of things. I could give to the community, and I would say the last but not least, was my very first peanut was with a group of Los Angeles, County Youth and I was like, you are going to keep it real. Like if you're not going to if you're not if it don't hit they'll let you know, you know, and I was so nervous cuz I was like, this is not a good I don't I could go in front of a group of doctors congressmen and be like it's going to be okay but a group of teenagers is like the most coolest you wanted to talk to me. I am them and to know that they both.

16:58 We share this but that I was here in this position of like power now and its position of owning my my life and you know, and my and my journey and my healing was so incredibly powerful for me. I'm like, one of the best moments of my entire life to be honest with you. So I will hold that with me for the rest of my days.

17:19 Wow. Yeah. All of those moments are incredible.

17:26 I just want to go back to your child and the gifts. You have bestowed upon her by being who you are. It's really a beautiful thing to have witnessed for me. All right. What is the greatest lesson you've learned from the work you've done? If it lacks Joy, then it's time to stop and it's time to recalibrate. Because this work should not be about killing ourselves. It should not be about a naproxen and we are here to find the joy and if we are living lives that are already, you know, kind of saturated by

18:14 You know who are Asian and oppression and things like that that are job, especially in the work, is to find a joy. Because if there is no joy, then there is no purpose. To be honest with you. We can't continue to do work. That's going to add to our trauma. We have to find a way to make this.

18:39 Healing. You have to find a way to make this feeling and I just realized like it's like, if I am burning myself out that I am essentially.

18:49 Finishing the job.

18:51 You know, finishing the job for the people and the places in the system that have

19:00 You know, wanted to burn me out that I've wanted to steal my joy, and I'm just in a place in my life, where I no longer accept that. So, I think that that's the greatest lesson.

19:14 Well.

19:17 Are there gaps in anti-trafficking response that need to be addressed?

19:23 Absolutely, I mean healthcare for all is my like forever and always like

19:33 You know, I never ending sort of.

19:40 What it, what's the word I'm looking for. I like, kind of like.

19:44 Marathon that I'm on by myself. I know there's a lot of other Health Care on our soil, the powers-that-be created the systemic legislative response to these issues. Building is systemic oppression, right in, and it really creative complicated paternalistic and almost racial history, and he asked for trafficking movement itself. So, I just feel like in the movement space that's determined to tokenize and exploit. The experiences of human trafficking, survivors and impact of people for like funding or for social capital, or for you don't like the best of intentions will not understanding the impact. My commitment is to the uplift of marginalized people and stay continuous.

20:36 You know, continuous learning, continuous, teachability, while holding that historical context of colonization and imperialism through this lens because we can't just go in there thinking that we're going to rescue people and pull them out of their trafficking situation and that they'll be okay without addressing any of the vulnerabilities that likes the traffic situation to begin with. That's why prevention. Work is so important. That's why Upstream Public Health, you know, Solutions are the answer or the solution. And I just think that the more and more we stop with this, like, Band-Aid stuff, the more and more, we stop with this with this rescue mentality. Like, we don't need to be rescued. We need, we don't need allies me to complices. We need people who are willing to share their social capital, just share their to share their, their wisdom capital and to bring us along, right to 2 to bring us along the journey and

21:36 I suppose it's to those things so that we can live a different life so that we can have access to those to those things. So I just think the gaps are related to do, you know, if people really just trying to do Crisis Intervention and as we can see Crisis Intervention ends up, costing us more money in the long run when we can really just be focusing on modalities that actually help people heal. So that's that's a big part. I know there's a lot of money in this movement, but I've done a lot of research lately and you know, most people I talk to you don't have access to healthcare. So where is the money going? And what we're focusing. So strongly on the perpetrator and putting all this money into the back. I know we forget that there is this bleeding human being

22:23 Who has no help and no support system, and who probably ended up in the situation because they had, you know, very little very little structural support to begin with. So I just think that that is a piece of there's no continuation of services. It's like, good luck and no longer in the trafficking situation. But what else, what are we connecting people to? What are the, what are the support systems? That work meeting with Howard. We Empower that person. Okay, you've got them to a, to a, to a new to a housing, why you got them into housing? Have you equip that person? Is this the way Sabre like is I'm where you just like all we got to my house and we're so happy or did you show that person because that person might night? When Mike Lee who stays in one home for the rest of their lives. Are you equipped in that person with the skills? They need in order to find housing.

23:11 So these are the pieces that I think are are are hugely missing and we love to do things for other people because we think it's the right thing to do and we have empathy and compassion for the same time. Are we building the skills that people need in order to build up halfway to stop and see the bill that pathway to self-actualization.

23:33 Indeed.

23:37 Tell me about a time at work when you felt proud to do what you do, and you shared a couple of instances, but you've done so much over your young career already, but I just realized her for a friend, Fresno County that I got. I got a quick card from Fresno County in the mail and said I just wanted to send you a note to say thank you for speaking at our last week. Your words were so powerful and your post poetry. So honest and touching so many have commented on how they were moved and awakened. By your words. It was truly a pleasure to have you take this time to share with us. We love you. Say well. Thanks again, Fresno County.

24:22 So there you have it.

24:30 Secular really proud when I receive messages like that, that I think that might work and I'll seriousness is to open minds and hearts. And if I'm capable of doing that, if I'm even even the slightest way, if I assistant someone leaning into their discomfort and to their becoming, then that's then my work here is done.

24:52 And what lasting change have you made in your community that you're most proud of?

24:58 So these are some of the things I've done within the last year which I'm really excited about. I'm here in my community, my Long Beach Community. I've helped establish a free herbal pharmacy for black people of color in the Long Beach area. That was a big big deal for all the marginalized here in 10 folks. And and I'm House books that are in in the area. I recently distributed $220,000 in covid relief funds to 40 survivors of human trafficking in years past the year before I have to trial trafficking protection, Bill and an amendment to Title Nine and see if California. So those are really big deal for me because of of just like being in the policies fear. It's off. It's not often that you get to win. Is a lot of work but not often, you know, not not.

25:58 Victory after Victory, you know, so that was a really big deal that both the belt that I had worked on last year. I had actually made it to the legislation and I think that if you like as far as lasting change my work with LA County csec identified use. This is the thing that I'm most proud of.

26:18 And do you have any advice for people wishing to make a difference?

26:23 Yeah, so this is kind of like my closing thoughts. I think that Community Building requires like a concept of a leader.

26:34 As as one who designed experiences for others, so experiences that in and of themselves are examples of our desired features. So, when I think about collected visioning, this is what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about folks, who don't lack creativity, right? Who have an understanding of like this is what my fee but this is what could be. And I think that this kind of leadership is restorative produces energy rather, they consumed it right rather than like. Oh, no, there's nothing. I can do, we can do on this is so painful and horrible. And we're all just trauma bonding cuz this is like to intends to do with. I think that this type of leadership grades accountability and confront people with their own autonomy and what their own Freedom, which is something that we all have is not in Taken. I also think that the more and more that we are in story with one another, the more and more like the closer we get to equilibrium and assertive understanding of one another's experiences.

27:34 Barney's Bar environments with everything. We share energy and space with which can also and cover. Like, what we're most accountable to and who and what shapes our understanding of power. So for example, a classmate and one of my cohorts in active duty duty military personnel, and in my experience, the US military is responsible for my family's like Max displacement poverty and genocide to the military touches every aspect of my community and the land because of your realism along with every aspect of our Collective future on the island to the islands deep dependence on the US government because of colonialism and essentially squash and overwhelmed, everyone's dreams and their desires in this way, like militarism became a part of my genealogy and many ways without my consent. So,

28:27 How do we reconcile our participation, right? How do, how do we acknowledge the claims for phone calls for sovereignty? When someone's else's, work is like Ant and the medical? Someone else's Liberation. And I honestly think that's that these dialogues. Either dialogues, that we must have. And they require like, certain breathing, long-term, commitment, and shifts from from Blaine culture to accountability culture, which I've seen a couple of times and other spaces. No accountability culture like systematized has problems. It's probably ties as a fraction and accept and takes responsibility for transforming systemic issues. And most importantly, it's healing censored. So, often times, I think that, like, or I'm of the opinion, right? That our problem is not that our relationships with one another are comply, but that we live in a world that can't hold complexity without judgment.

29:19 So, I mean, obviously still so much violence has normalized and within marginalized communities yetis. Externally course the vanities, but still I think that, that that's reach equilibrium. We have to be enemies dialogue and unfortunately like the abuse in the abandonment and rejection of LG l, g b, t q? I a, i people like the the the rejection and abandonment, queer people face in addition to the racial components right of intergenerational trauma.

29:53 Like all the the time of that black indigenous people of color Carey do to like very real and personal histories of of a people who were severely and brutalized brutally punished for existing. So I think anyway, it's just important to hold these lands as well. Finding ways to sponsor with healing work. That reinforces our, our humanity and create space to celebrate the distinct differences that make the queer Community vibrant and unique and essential to this world. And I think that as a relates to White allies, like

30:30 Deeply ingrained conditioned, responses and sometimes cause supposed to feel like racism fatigue or to make it, you know, make like 10 of unfounded assumptions about some what are some something. So I think for those folks their work is more about Noah daily commitments, you want to doing this conditioning. I mean, I'm all for all of us and seeing humans as they actually are not for what they do. Like what label is there for Superior? What what category Society meant you or what group, they belong to her? Don't belong to you. So did the theory is that I will be applying, you know, it's in my name and I continue to apply dealerships.

31:14 Thank you, Jess, for sharing your wisdom, and your truth with all of us, and I hope people hear this and, and follow your path.

31:26 Okay, thank you. And yes, I'm kind of thank you for taking this time.