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Redwood Bark

Data courtesy of Speak Safe
More articles from the Redwood Bark on exploitation in Marin and the Bay Area:
Data courtesy of Speak Safe
More articles from the Redwood Bark on exploitation in Marin and the Bay Area:

For teens by teens: how Speak Safe is working to end the exploitation of youth in Marin

It’s a Sunday morning in Philz Coffee at the Town Center Corte Madera shopping mall. Inside sits a group of teenagers, all surrounding one woman: Marlene Capra, the founder and leader of Speak Safe, a task force working to end the exploitation of youths in Marin through preventative education and support. 

Capra listens to the members’ input attentively as they share their “highs and lows” of the week.

Youth exploitation occurs when a trusted figure in a youth’s life takes advantage of their vulnerabilities for sexual, economic, or social favors. Capra and her team spend a lot of their time training school districts on ways to recognize the vulnerabilities of exploitation and how to support those who have been victimized.

The teenagers that are a part of Capra’s youth team represent and advocate for the voices of youths who have fallen victim to exploitation. Capra kicks off meetings by inquiring each member about their “highs and lows” of the week, offering her undivided attention to stories of accomplishments and academic anxieties. From the start, Capra wanted to make sure young people and their voices were central to Speak Safe.

“I’ve always worked with youth. All students need is one trusted adult in their life to make a difference. I want to give them the tools to be able to prevent [exploitation],” Capra said. “To me, youth are the heart of who we are. Our youth are normalizing the conversation so that others may come forward and tell their stories. I’ve realized that if you don’t have youth on the forefront, you’re just not effective.”

The team surrounding Capra talk comfortably to their fellow members. These friendships are the reason why so many members of the team got involved with Speak Safe in the first place, as was the case for Tamalpais High School senior Katie Lowenstein.

Youth members Rita Yam, Monica Kaur, and Angel Yam stand alongside Capra at their information table at San Rafael High School. (Photo courtesy of Marlene Capra)

“Last year, I was looking for something to do where I could help out in my community. One of my friends was in Speak Safe and recommended it to me. Once I started doing it, I really connected with it,” Lowenstein said. 

Lowenstein has since introduced other members of the team to Speak Safe, all of whom share the same desire to make positive change in Marin. However, many members, prior to Speak Safe, were under the impression that the issue of youth exploitation wasn’t one that seemed to pertain to Marin County’s residents. Working with Speak Safe allows them to combat these misconceptions. Alex Mitchell, a senior at St. Ignatius High School, was introduced to Speak Safe by Lowenstein and credits her newfound knowledge of exploitation cases in Marin to her work with Speak Safe.

“A lot of people assume that because Marin is a wealthy [and safe] area, [youth exploitation] doesn’t happen. But since working with Speak Safe, I’ve become aware that it happens everywhere, even in wealthier areas,” Mitchell said. 

Working with Speak Safe has also allowed many of the participants to hone their public speaking skills as they present to districts.

Capra and her youth team gather for a group photo at their typical meeting place, Philz Coffee.

The reason why the team has gained this confidence can largely be attributed to the fact that they work with people in the same age group. Michela Millstein, a senior at San Domenico School, had originally been working with an organization consisting of primarily adults, and believes Speak Safe was the refreshing change that she needed.

“I feel that as a youth, in regard to youth exploitation, I can be more useful when it comes to the things that we do here at Speak Safe. Having people around me that are my age feels more collaborative,” Millstein said.

Capra had introduced the team to an application called “Take It Down” which, upon request, removes every possible picture of a youth that puts them at risk. Using these connections, Millstein successfully erased her friends’ leaked photos from the internet. 

“Recently, a friend of mine had their pictures leaked by a scammer who threatened them for money. They posted [the pictures] on social media and tagged everyone from my school. I told my friend about Speak Safe, connected them with Marlene and got the pictures taken down,” Millstein said.


If you are interested in being a part of the Speak Safe task force please contact:

[email protected]

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About the Contributors
Nadia Massoumi
Nadia Massoumi, Opinion Editor
Nadia Massoumi is a junior at Redwood High School and is an opinion editor for the Bark. She enjoys listening to music, traveling with her family and friends, and baking red velvet cakes.
Ava Carlson
Ava Carlson, Reporter
Ava Carlson is a senior at Redwood High School. She enjoys spending time with friends, running, coffee and finding new music.