Artistic Activism – Ep.59

Season 1 highlights – Ep.58
July 5, 2022
Serving the Community – Ep.60
July 21, 2022

Founder of Nature of Sound, Haasan Sabbagh discusses using creative art forms and community outreach as platforms to bring awareness to social issues such as human trafficking. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

Haasan Sabbagh founded the creative think tank, Nature of Sound, in 2013 to solve critical issues in the community like human trafficking. Mr. Sabbagh is a local leader who has created a grassroots movement and volunteer opportunities for youth. Under his leadership, he’s coordinated communication between agencies across Solano County and the Solano Anti-trafficking Coalition with the goal of comprehensive victim services and empowering survivors.

All right. I have the exciting task of introducing Haasan Sabbagh. I’m going to get it right. Haasan Sabbagh.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Thank you so much.

Melyssa Barrett:  And I am just really excited to have you here with me, because I know you are the founder and executive director of Nature of Sound. And you talk a lot about creative community solutions and I know we’re going to dive into that. I’m excited to hear about all the things you’re doing. But I always got to start with you telling me a little bit about yourself and how you got to be where you are, because I know there’s so many things going on with your focus.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Well, thank you so much, Melyssa. This is such a fantastic opportunity just to talk about my history and the journey that I’ve had to persevere to really push Solano in the direction of taking care of our most vulnerable.

I’m a second generation American. My father came here in the ’50s and he joined the military. He with military background, but due to his service, he was left 100% disabled. It was a slow process. He wasn’t 100%. My whole life, he had some mobility and things like that. He managed and he is tough as nails. I was able to grow up with a sense of responsibility, duty and care, because I would always help him when I was a little kid, when it came to just medical care and providing a good quality life for him. It was really important to me.

That’s really what helped me be able to rebound from these things that I was witnessing in a young age, in high school. And where I immediately started to problem solve and to look at ways of changing entertainment, to being more of a solution rather than a cause of these issues. When you look at entertainment, you look at the Super Bowl and things like that, that actually spurs a lot of active human trafficking, because people will pay for escorts and things like that in these events, because they’re lonely and whatnot. It actually has these unintended consequences.

That was just like, I was lucky enough to grow up with my family, and I have four older brothers and a little sister, so I’m always looking after my little sister and getting guidance from my older brother. It’s always been a learning experience.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. Well, it sounds like a wonderful family and you having incorporated empathy into your world. I knew there was a story. I knew there was a story there, because I kept going. I was like, “I wonder how do you, as a parent, raise a son like you, that is doing so many amazing things at such a young age?” I can’t imagine what the rest of your family is doing.

Haasan Sabbagh:  I wasn’t perfect. I was a very rebellious kid in high school. I was mentioning going out to Oakland and San Francisco DJing. That was not parental consent, I just did those things. I just was lucky enough to make the right decisions when these crossroads came before me. And my parents were always very… They’re military family, so they’re pretty strict, but also forgiving at the same time, because they knew I was going to make the right choices.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. Awesome.

Haasan Sabbagh:  It’s an interesting story of how I got here. It really starts when I was in high school. Back in 2007, 2008, I was attending High School and I was very passionate about music, and that really allowed me to express myself and go out and DJ. And that was what I love to do. In Solan County there originally wasn’t places for me to go, there wasn’t a way for me to express myself musically. So I had to turn to bigger cities. I would go to Oakland, San Francisco, Modesto, all over and just share what I loved, and that was just my music.

And that gave me an insight into entertainment and nightlife, where I was able to identify that there was issues when it came to nightlife and entertainment and exploitation. That was one of the big signs for me to get into this work, because I didn’t feel that if the facilities and the culture were structured in a way that it didn’t take into account exploitation and abuse, it didn’t sit right with me.

I was lucky to have a good head on my shoulders. And I was able to keep away from a lot of the bad elements of nightlife when it came to drug use and things like that. Especially at a very young age, I was like 16, 17, 18 as I noticed these things, and I would work at production events doing events. Once I got out of high school, I already had pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. Entertainment was really what I was focused on, and bringing people together. Because music is such a strong tether, we all love music. It’s just a different flavor, what we really like. And that allowed me to go “Well, hey, I’m noticing…” The first thing I noticed was access to water. A lot of the times when there’s a lot of drug use, there’s a need of hydration. And when people were overdosing, is really they weren’t hydrating properly. We can’t control everybody, you can’t control people’s drug uses, but at least you can make an environment that’s safe.

Where I worked, we would do production events for promoters and things and different venues. And so the first opening of my eyes was actually the lack of water. They would shut off water fountains to make people pay for water bottles. This would be like $5 for just a water bottle, which doesn’t make any sense. It’s ridiculous. People would buy that one water bottle or not at all and go into the bathrooms and just drink out of the faucets or fill it up out of the faucets, which is not hygienic at all.

And it just shows that level of exploitation, not an extreme level of exploitation that my work is mainly focused on. But it just nudged the door open for me. And then I started to look for more things that just weren’t right. People being drugged and turned out missing and things like that. It wasn’t super prevalent where it was happening everywhere, but it happened. And that was enough for me to go, “Why aren’t we making protections, like these procedures and protocols in entertainment to protect young women, young boys and just anyone in general from predatory people?”

That really projected me or really pushed me in a direction of, “Well, I need to step away from these for-profit entertainment businesses.” And I went ahead and I worked pizza delivery at the time, so I just saved tips and saved my money from DJing. And I ended up paying for legal services to found Nature of Sound. It took a couple of attempts, different ideas. We had something else in mind, but it was very an open ended conversation. I ended up settling with Nature of Sound because it was as if it’s our nature in expression to nurture an idea, like a seed, and to give voice to the voiceless, to making projects that have long term sustainability and public good.

And we really wanted to focus on creatives providing that bridge for the community. It really started with just music, but as we developed photography and film, is at every event. So we opened it up to film. And what is such eye capturing thing, it’s the art, it’s the murals and things that you’re able to do to rally the community together. So we opened it up to art.

It was really important to me to hit on something heavy, because of the need, because there was a lack of discussion back in 2010, 2011, was human trafficking. It was a passion project for me to focus on HT and starting the conversation. We brought musicians together, they would bring their peers. We would bring advocates. Back then we would work with Children’s Nurturing Project, that was a nonprofit organization that helped with children through trauma, and also foster and adoptions. They were a really fantastic organization. And I was lucky to have the executive director and vice president, Debbie Davis and Lori Hartman, to support our cause and believe in us, because we were just a bunch of kids at this point, just out of high school.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow. You kids with an idea for sure. How do you go from “I’m playing music and then I want to focus on exploitation, water, sustainability,” and now you’re talking about human trafficking. I’m like, whoa. Your brain definitely works in different ways. And I love the fact that Nature of Sound has you reaching out in so many different ways to impact the community, as you said, almost as a seed that is growing in so many different ways.

When you got into this area of human trafficking, because I live in the Central Valley, which is off of Highway 99 and 5, so it’s actually, I guess, an area that is very easy for human traffickers because they have easy access to the highway to get down south or wherever. What kind of things did you guys do when it came to human trafficking, in terms of trying to address the issue in Solano County?

Haasan Sabbagh:  That actually came in phases. Our first course of action was to educate and to make it an apparent reality that this is an issue that affects all of us. A lot of the times, there’s this misconception that it is a third world problem. But in reality, it is a problem across the spectrum in a first world country. In a rich country like ours, Americans are trafficked at a higher dollar than you would a child in Tibet, a child in impoverished countries where their families are forced to sell their kids into slavery because of financial situations and things like that. These are horrible situations, and not to make lie to them, but with an American, they are able to be sold and resold in a higher rate than any other third world country.

Melyssa Barrett:  Like a monetary rate you’re talking?

Haasan Sabbagh:  Exactly. Yeah, monetary rate. And I don’t like to talk money too much on this, but it’s really important that people have it in their mind, that it is a multibillion dollar industry. It is bigger than drugs and guns. This is the largest black market in the world. And there’s a reason for that. And that’s because you don’t just sell it to the person and it’s done. This is slavery, this is the remnants of slavery. It is the reselling of an individual through labor or sex acts and this commercial exploitation. And it’s really important to humanize the situation, because the language has changed dramatically over the years. And we’re really blessed and lucky to be in California, one of the leading states in the issue. But you look at just terminology in the courts and the legals and law enforcement, it used to be called an underage prostitute, as what they would call a child being exploited.

And now, the language has changed to sexually exploited child. It just creates sympathy. And language is such an important aspect of the conversation because if you have this term, prostitute, that already is a negative connotation. You go “Okay, well they did that to themselves.” And that is just so far from the truth. Even an adult who may be 24, 25, or whatever the age is, they were brought into this at the age of 13 or younger. Any respect to the issue is showing that this is a complicated matter and it’s a slow process. It’s not just like one day you’re abducted and this and that. It’s not like that here in the States. It was really important for us to establish this baseline of, is it happening here? Yes.

And that’s where we focused our concert campaigns to bring that question to those who are affected by it the most, young creatives and peers. That’s where we started. We called it Stop the Traffic and we hosted concerts throughout Solano County to just hear about it, raise money for it and what we can do next.

That was something we did, and we got a lot of recognition for that. We ended up being nominated for Champions for Children for Solano County. We didn’t win it, but it was just enough to be recognized. And we had congressional acknowledgement from a Congressman Garamendi, and a lot of local state senators like Susan Wallach and Bill Dodd, and as well as local legislators like Jim Fraser in our community. There’s definitely a few more. But just off the top of my head, that was just where we got started. This was a 2016. It took a few years of planning because something as important as this, there’s always a sense of caution. You can’t go out guns blazing and hoping to do good because survivors of human trafficking and their stories deserve more than just good intention. It requires transparency, comprehensive policy and procedure, and being very focused on real attainable achievements.

It started off just letting people know it happens in the community. And then we started to continue the conversation. How do we engage the public in this issue? Then it goes into planning murals, planning more events, and then sharing survivor stories, which is essential to the conversation, because survivors must be lifted and their stories should be heard. It was really important for me to have projects that are survivor driven, and created by survivors, for survivors. It was quite a process. We first tried to create many partnerships with agencies, but as a young male and being a new nonprofit, especially there was a lot of adversity I had to overcome. Because some questions I would get asked is “Well, are you a victim?” Well, it shouldn’t matter if I’m telling you my story or not. I’m lifting up other voices that are survivors, and that should be what’s most important.

We’ve noticed really quickly that there was some kind of territorial behavior with nonprofits, that they didn’t want to collaborate openly, especially with a new kid on the block. Because there’s this sense of this is our cause, we’re fighting this cause. Every issue should be treated like this, but in this particular issue is not a one agency can solve all, this is a collaborative effort.

Luckily we worked really closely with our district attorney in our county. She believed in our vision and opened her arms and allowed us to collaborate with her office. Shout out to Krishna Abrams. And she really had a strong belief that victims should be believed and supported, especially victims of human trafficking, so we can become survivors. This phase in progress where we were first just letting people know it was happening, and then we’re trying to mobilize the community.

And that comes into the stage that we’re at right now. I was able to create a coalition that I called the Solano Anti-trafficking Coalition, with support of the district attorney and several law enforcement agencies, advocates, service providers, and survivors. And that gave us a new level of understanding. Because in a small community like ours, access to data, how many cases are being found, how many cases are being charged successfully and so on and so forth, how do we know what is necessary and what is needed in our county? Getting the numbers from law enforcement, that was incredibly important, and our agency has been focused on sharing that data. It’s been a whole aspect of our coalition, is data sharing, creating projects like a shelter, so that when law enforcement or loved ones find or share that they found someone in this situation, they have a place to go.

And that brings us to one of the big hurdles that we’ve discovered, is that you have these shelters that they take everything under the sun, homelessness, domestic violence, human trafficking, all in these facilities. And to me, I think it is a disrespect to the realities that these survivors have endured, because a homeless shelter is no place for a survivor of human trafficking, and a domestic violence shelter is also no place for a survivor of human trafficking.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I think that’s what’s so interesting to me, because when I was having a conversation with Serina, shout out to Serina at Fresh Eyes Development, she was talking about how the conversation you all had had regarding a domestic violence shelter versus a human trafficking shelter, can be so different when you’re talking about locks on the doors and different things. I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about that, because I found that really interesting.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Yeah, absolutely. It’s the mentality. If you’ve endured domestic violence, security and safety is paramount. Large bulletproof doors, chains and locks, these are comforting, I would imagine. Not for everyone, of course. One size does not fit all. But for victims of human trafficking, it’s about freedom. And a lot of these shelters, they take their phones away, of which it’s common sense. Yeah, take their phone away. But you can’t keep someone in your shelter if they don’t want to be in your shelter. You can try to limit their access to the outside world, but they’re going to find a way, because if there’s a will, there’s a way. And that’s not a healthy conversation to start with somebody.

With what we’ve been able to examine and look at when it comes to other agencies that have been doing this for a long time, we looked out to Alameda County for some of their shelters. And we discovered one of our partners, Ruby’s Place, is one of the first domestic violence shelters in the United States, back in 1978. They’ve had decades of experience and I was lucky enough to get to speak with their executive director, Sophora. It was really just wanting to collaborate with us, helping us wherever we could. Whether it was beneficial to her organization or not, it was showing their model was a gold standard. And they used to take away their phones, they used to do all these limiting things. And they’ve learned through comprehensive research, that if you create a space that’s transparent and safe, and gives them freedom, they’re more likely to succeed in your program. And these come with so many complications.

But just to build how this happens, how does a shelter look differently? For some of these shelters, there’s a no tolerance drug use policy. In these situations, these survivors didn’t choose to be on drugs. Traffickers use things like heroin to keep them on a fishing line, so they’re always coming back from withdrawals. There’s this compound issue, if you have a zero tolerance policy, you’re just going to be kicking these people back out on the streets, so they’re back into trafficking and they’re back into those situations that you’re trying to keep them from, that’s not the case. And I’ve worked with survivors that had these issues and it was through forgiveness in trial to overcome these things. And everyone has different mechanisms that they need to overcome these things. Some people just need a place to detox, they’re good to go. They need support to get housing, career prep and then they’re good to go.

Some people have more trauma, so you need to balance it with rehab and counseling. So you’re focusing on the drug addiction and mental trauma. A lot of the time, that’s not the case. They want to deal with the drug addictions before they deal with the mental health side of things. That doesn’t cut it. That was something that we were able to do. And then even when you get them to rehab, are they going to be prescribing the medication that’s even acceptable to someone who’s suffering from extreme trauma? And we found in our community that it was not the case. They were prescribing methadone, which is a common rehab prescription for heroin addiction. Well, that’s not recommended when you speak to advocates and survivors themselves. It has very heavy withdrawals. It’s just not the right fit for them.

That’s why they lean towards getting Suboxone, which is a easier withdrawal process and it’s more recommended by survivors that this is the type of drug that you would give someone who has extreme trauma. And we were able to collaborate with Touro University and Drug Safe Solano, and Bright Heart Health to get access to prescriptions in being seen by a doctor within 24 hours of finding a victim of human trafficking, which is incredible to increase the speed of when [inaudible 00:28:12] activated is essential. Because you have a very limited timeframe to get these services [inaudible 00:28:21].

And just going into more of the differences, something that’s simple is a bathroom. In homeless shelters, they’re very open space bathrooms. That’s not really the right environment for someone who has suffered extreme trauma and sexual and abuse. That’s just not the right fit. We designed our shelter to have personal bathrooms and showers. This really plays into being assigned for everybody, especially minority and LGBT. An open space bathroom, if you were trans, wouldn’t be a place that you would want to go into, whether or not you’re comfortable with your body. It’s still not, in my opinion, appropriate. And then even, they should have that as well.

But these are just things that we picked and looked at to ensure that we’re creating something that is going to provide the best possible service for our most vulnerable. And it’s just this structure, just making sure that it is designed by survivors, for survivors. Through the coalition we were lucky to have one of our survivors, Nicole. Nicole, she teaches law enforcement and the warning signs of exploitation, from coast to coast. I’m very lucky and privileged to say that she’s part of our organization as a director. She’s really the spark of our heart, when it comes to just make sure this program is successful.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow. That is phenomenal. I can’t even tell you how many things I got out of that. Not to mention, I think you started off with, when you talk about building a coalition now, a lot of what you talked about really comes down to allyship. You are creating that safe space, that allyship around the causes that you care about. And I think everybody can learn from that, for sure.

Then what other solutions? Because I know when you talk about music and Stop the Traffic, those are just drops in the bucket with all of the things that you’re doing in the community. Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the other things you’re doing?

Haasan Sabbagh:  Yeah. Just even expanding what we’re trying to create for survivors, creating support systems that are based on identity, ethnicity, and faith, giving people that personal relationship and those support systems that they seek. Especially for minority communities, it’s really important that they can feel supported by their community. Essentially, one of the things that we’re doing is building support groups, connecting with faith organizations. Because a lot of the times they connect the faith to a shelter, and I feel like that’s a personal journey between them and their faith. Whether or not they’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, it shouldn’t matter. The structure of the shelter should not be based on a particular faith, but have those opportunities if they seek it.

And that just creates a whole level of respect, because a lot of the time people, I don’t want to throw horror stories out in this, but it’s really important when you see the misuse of faith. I’ve heard, one survivor story was that they went into a shelter and they were pregnant, and they wanted to overcome this obstacle, this horrendous situation and environment that they were living in. And one of the shelter workers was like, “What makes you think you’re going to be a good mother? God wouldn’t…” I think she was saying like, “Jesus, wouldn’t want you to have this lifestyle and still worrying about your daughter. You should be worrying about yourself.” It’s such a horrific story, in this sense of I’ve spoken to survivors that their motherhood was the strongest tether out of this life. It was building on the fact that they want to create a life that isn’t going to bring their child into this situation as well. And just to hear the exact opposite being said, and using their faith against them, I thought that was despicable. And it’s not uncommon.

That’s why it’s really important for us to separate it and to make sure that this is a space that it is what you make out of it. If it’s going to be a religious journey of faith, that’s your choice. If it’s going to be something just secular and your own personal traumas and you’re overcoming in your own way, that’s how you get out of it. Even when it comes to law enforcement, it is really important… We’re lucky that we have the partners that we have that respect this, is that if they don’t want to press charges, and if they don’t want to talk to the police, it’s not the shelter’s, it’s not our job to do that. It’s our job to create something that they feel safe and trusted in building that type of relationship.

Whereas, instead of like, “Hey, in order to stay here, you need to make sure you process your trafficker.” We all want them to process their trafficker, but it may not be that simple. They may fear the ramifications. And they’re not going to be in the right head space to confront this issue, unless they’re given that space, that time to heal and to grow. It’s such a multi-pronged issue. But beyond just human trafficking, we use our creative platform to get people involved in the community. And as much as HT is super important and it is something of passion for me, our organization doesn’t stop there. We really encourage all our volunteers to speak up on things that are important to them in their community.

And we created a virtual volunteer platform. We have people from all over the world volunteering with us, using their skills to not only make portfolios for themselves, but to make some real good. And we try to keep a global mindset when it comes to these conversations and how do we address things. Some of the ways that we’ve done that is while we do have these projects and things that we can do, we have also just included things that are fun. Entertainment was really a strong pillar in our organization. We even included video games as a way of creating conversation about these issues and also fundraising. And this allows us to partner with big Fortune 500 companies and creating a campaign that goes across state lines, across country boundaries, and is more of an international conversation, because exploitation can happen in so many different ways.

Like just online on a video game, you have a lot of youth, a lot of bad actors as well on there. And it’s really important that we create a conversation that talks about what are those signs, what’s a healthy online relationship, what’s something that’s something to be concerned about. And even when it comes to going out to your local game shop and playing games that you love, how do we make sure that the staff is aware and able to do something about it in case their own customer or community is hurt or harmed? These are ways that we’ve been able to just spread the message and diversify the way that we’ve approached it.

And this also creates volunteer opportunities. With that, is reducing of delinquency. And with video games, for example, it’s a very disenfranchised group. They’re not embedded into the community, like basketball and football and soccer and baseball. It’s disconnected. So us building those bridges and those ways for that community to make an impact and protect not only themselves, but other elements and other factors of their community, is also really important. Because it makes it beyond, “Oh, they’re just wasting time playing video games.” This is a negative connotation to what they’re doing. They’re doing what makes them happy. And the science shows that people who play video games find themselves to be happier than the socialite counterparts. It’s very interesting to see the dynamics of that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, no doubt. And it’s interesting to me because you have so many different layers of depth when it comes to the entertainment, but then you’ve got science and technology, the arts. It is bringing almost life in, and allowing them to decide when they want to go out. You know what I mean? It’s almost like bringing the city to someone who has been through that amount of trauma and then they decide when they want to open the door and go out. Kudos to all that you’re doing over there.

I think it’s so amazing for you, as such a young person, to be making such an impact on your community, really globally. I’m not trying to say you’re only doing it in your community, but you have this global community that is really responding to a world problem that unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be going away. But hopefully, we are chipping away at it through educating others on all of the challenges associated, especially as people come out of it and those survivors that come through and really want to make sure that they’re getting the services that they need to reenter the world in a healthy way.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Exactly. It’s a global conversation and it’s really hard to stand by when you see people muddying the water, when it comes to something as important as fighting human trafficking. I’m a very optimistic person, so for me, numbers can be deceiving, because you look at the statistics of how many people are suffering from slavery type conditions, and the number is incredibly high. But when we look at the percentage of the population, it’s gone down.

While the population has boomed and that small percentage is more than ever before, but it’s the smallest percentage that it’s ever been. When it comes to just creating a really accurate conversation, it comes with dismissing misinformation. A lot of the times, one of the key takeaways I always make is, victims have their stories hijacked and used for political purposes, and that’s something that we see through QAnon. They don’t show hesitancy or caution when they share false stories of exploitation or exploiters. For me, who’s been working in this background and recognized as a professional in the topic, as I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years, it is just incredibly alarming, because I’ve always shown restraint and caution. Because I would never want to put anything out there that was wrong or hasty. I’m a little bit of a hothead sometimes, so it was a challenge for me.

Melyssa Barrett:  No way.

Haasan Sabbagh:  But, when we be true to ourselves and look at how important it is for us to just be our best selves and do our due diligence, it really creates a different environment for getting things done.

Melyssa Barrett:  And I think what’s really fabulous is, when you start with education, I only recently was able to go through an organization that I work with. They did an event on human trafficking and I was sitting there, I had no idea just the breadth of not only how it’s happening in my community, but the mental state, all of the challenges that these victims go through, the survivors. The mental anguish, the self-esteem, there’s so many different layers to it and it is so eye opening. I just appreciate you coming on and talking about the subject, because I think there’s so much work to do in this area.

Literally, not long ago, my daughter went to the mall and somebody approached her, they wanted her phone number or something like that. And apparently, she had told me that a woman had been taken with a child, I guess they were targeting women that had small children, and they ended up taking them both in the car and then down the street. They essentially threw the young boy out and kept the woman. It was one of those things where you go, “Wait a minute, that happened down the street in my city.” And it’s mind boggling, because I don’t think you don’t personalize it in a way where you know, “This is what’s happening. This could happen to your daughter or to your son or to your neighbor.”

When you talk about, it’s everyone’s problem, and the allyship around it is just amazing that you’re creating in that community. I just really appreciate you coming on and talking about it. Do you want to talk a little bit about Nature of Sound and how people can get ahold of you and what you’re doing?

Haasan Sabbagh:  Yeah, absolutely. Just if I may, this conversation when it comes to human trafficking is so massive. But some important takeaways. Again, when it comes to abduction, that’s actually, at least in my community and the data that I’ve seen, it’s actually the rarest form of human trafficking. And that’s what we call a guerilla trafficker, because you know guerilla warfare is very like suburban, subvert, brutal and erupt. In at least Solano County, it’s just very rare. It’s usually what we call the Romeo trafficker, who penetrates the flaws of their victim. They identify the weaknesses and whether they have issues with their family or self-esteem, they latch onto it and they expand those wounds, those mental wounds, and they try to comfort them. And this is like what I hear is the worst trafficker.

You would think the guerilla trafficker is just deadly and violent and that’s the worst one, it’s really not. It’s the one who coerces you into believing that this person loves you. This person’s showering you in gifts, and then eventually it comes up to, “Well, I’ve bought you all these things, now you have to do me a favor.” And they begin to isolate them and remove them from their safety net, their family, their friends. That’s the trafficker that we’re worried about. That’s the one who finds your daughter online on Instagram or TikTok, and is a slow, horrible process.

Some of the warning signs is your kid’s just getting valuable gifts, like they get a new iPhone. That’s a huge, huge alarm. Especially if you’re not financially able to provide these things to your child and someone else is, not saying it’s always going to be human trafficking, but it’s certainly an alarming sign to just be very cautious. And it’s about education. And I just wanted to throw all that out there because I think out of all the information, that’s probably the most important when it comes to-

Melyssa Barrett:  No, you’re absolutely right. Because as I was thinking through it and going through this educational process myself, this process that you’re talking about could be months, could be years. It is not like it happens overnight. And I think as a parent, as I was listening, I kept going… Because I think, especially if your child is… Maybe I have a daughter in high school or whatever, and they’re doing something, you always think about, “Oh, I’m going to take her phone away.” But it actually plays right into the trafficker’s mindset of, “Oh, I’ll just buy you a new iPhone. And guess what? You don’t have to communicate with them,” because he’s only communicating with your daughter now. You know what I mean?

For me as a parent, there were so many different times in that education where I just kept going, “Oh my gosh.” As a parent, you automatically are thinking like, “Well, what’s the punishment for not doing what you’re supposed to do or whatever?” But it actually feeds into it, because it’s like you’re helping to create that isolation from the family. There’s so many different perspectives as you go into it to try and make sure that you’re doing the right thing to support the victims of these crimes, as opposed to just looking so sternly about, like, “Hey, this is my daughter, now you’re on punishment or whatever.”

Haasan Sabbagh:  Exactly. It all starts in a healthy conversation.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Haasan Sabbagh:  But definitely, I’d love to even share how people get involved if any of your viewers are interested. Anyone can visit our website at, and there’s a signup button if they want to share the skill sets that they do have. You don’t necessarily need any particular skill sets. If you just want to be supportive, sharing links, sharing events and things like that, goes a long way.

We also have a Patreon for those who want to donate to our projects. We try to do a structured donation system where you can donate to a cause that we’re fighting for. When it comes to our human trafficking issues, we go with #SolanoItHappensHere, it’s our little hashtag for it. And everything that we raise goes into supporting the services that we do, provide as a collective and as a coalition. We’re lucky to partner with SANE/SART, as a group of medical examiners and nurses that go and evaluate survivors of exploitation in children. We work with Solano Advocates Against Violence, that they work with them and do case management and process the survivors through the program. And then with the various other service providers that we work with.

I always say we’re not in the business of replicating services, it’s always about bringing the best together. Even if it’s not a cause that you’re particularly passionate about, we just haven’t heard your voice yet, to really work towards that issue. We do focus on fentanyl. That’s something that I get elected into a lot of these countywide committees. I was elected as chairman for the Solano Partnership Against Violence. That’s just violence as a whole, not so much just human trafficking. It’s domestic violence and things like that. I was also elected as co-chairman for the Solano Public Health Collaborative ATOD, which is alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

It’s all just a very 360 degrees of just trying to do what we can to help the youth and to lift them up. And when it comes to education and sharing to the youth, we host creative workshops and partnership with The Solano Office of Education. We call it Artist Power and we love to showcase local creators or talented individuals, their story and their journey of using creative expression to either make a successful career, or to overcome traumas and obstacles in their life, or making a mark in their community. And we love to share those with our students and our community so that we can learn and work together.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow. That’s phenomenal. I don’t know when you sleep. That’s a lot going on.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Five hours, that’s about it.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. Well, Haasan, I so appreciate you coming on and talking about the amazing things that you’re doing. I hope it inspires people around the world to create coalitions of allies and to impact the communities like you are. Kudos to you, and thank you so much for joining me this week on The Jali Podcast.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Thank you so much, Melyssa. It’s such a pleasure just getting to speak my story and just to speak to your viewers. I, incredibly am thankful for it.

Melyssa Barrett:  My pleasure. Well, I can’t wait to talk to you in 10 or 15 years and see what else has been going on. Hopefully, we will stay in touch and definitely we’ll be following the Nature of Sound, and hopefully we will be able to get some art and some music going as well. And wishing you the best for sure.

Haasan Sabbagh:  Yeah. And we’ll have a documentary on my journey and the process of how I got here. I did give a little bit of a light overview. There’s so many aspects of my story. We’re going to be fitting that in and I’ll let you know, so you can share to your viewers.

Melyssa Barrett:  Please do. Please do. Yes, I can’t wait to hear all about it. I feel like we’ve just barely scratched the surface.

Haasan Sabbagh:  It’s true, it’s true. It’s too much to tell in an hour.

Melyssa Barrett:  No doubt. Okay.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.