January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. These 31 days are dedicated to providing education about what the Department of Homeland Security calls “modern day slavery.”

While this particular month highlights the dangers of this dark movement, fighting it happens year round. As human trafficking grows rampant across California, Kern County is leading the state in its crackdown efforts.

On Monday, the California Department of Social Services will host its first Human Trafficking Awareness Awards in Sacramento. There, CDSS will honor three Kern County change makers for their commitment to those impacted by exploitation. Erin Gillespie and Angela Look from the Kern County Department of Human Services and Victim Advocate Angelica Zuniga will be awarded for their outstanding cross county initiatives regarding child welfare.

Gillespie will receive the Above and Beyond Award, as well as an award in recognition for her outstanding achievements and continued partnerships. Look will receive the Cross-System Collaboration Award for working diligently to train various agencies throughout the community. Zuniga will receive the Survivor Leader Award for working on behalf of human trafficking survivors and maintaining a survivor-informed approach in the combat of local human trafficking.

Throughout the last two years, the Kern County Department of Human Services has received 175 referrals alleging allegations of human trafficking and exploitation of children. Approximately 200 children have been identified as victims of exploitation and trafficking and hundreds more have been identified at-risk. To get involved in the fight against human trafficking, contact the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Dena Murphy is the director of the Kern County Department of Human Services.