The international issue of human trafficking often seems too enormous to tackle, but at a summit hosted by Regent University's Center for Global Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law on Wednesday, Dec. 5, the issues were broken down to the city level, with real strategies for Hampton Roads to implement to combat human trafficking.
The event was hosted in partnership with the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative and sponsored by the Protecting Children Foundation.
"This is not a problem that can be solved by any one entity—it must be a joint effort of many organizations in the community," said Kurt Ormberg, national coordinator of the Innocence Lost National Initiative with the FBI and a panelist featured at the summit.
"If we're not serving the people of our own community, I think we're missing out on a big part of what we're called to do," said Ashleigh Chapman, summit organizer and administrative director of Regent's Center for Global Justice (pictured). "We don't just want to be a model city, but a model region in the area of combatting human trafficking. It is our hope, by the grace of God, that we eradicate human trafficking in our lifetime."
The day's panels and discussions were focused on the idea that law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and individuals must come together to solve the human trafficking problem on a local level.
Beginning the summit were two panels of national experts, one focusing on how to free victims from sexual slavery and the second focusing on the rehabilitation and restoration of victims.
"There is a problem with sheltering victims," explained panelist Alden Pinkham, program specialist with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at Polaris Project, which sponsors the National Human Trafficking Hotline. "Nationwide, there are about 2,000 beds available to victims. But just on the hotline, we've identified references to 7,000 victims. And that's just the hotline."
With a sheltering deficit that big, it's easy to see why organizations spend so many hours and resources exploring what can be done for victims before and after they are rescued—though several panelists found the term "rescued" insufficient.
"We're not rescuing them," Ormberg explained. "They have to rescue themselves. We just offer them a hand and then help them cross that threshold."
"We have to change how we view prostitution," said Andrea Boxill, coordinator of CATCH Court and Franklin County's specialty courts for mental-health and drug cases in Columbus, Ohio. CATCH (Changing Actions to Change Habits) helps rehabilitate prostitutes and drug-addicted women who often fall prey to sex crimes. "People wonder how women can get back to 'the life,' but we have to realize it is all they know. ... It's not a choice; it's the result of a lifetime of abuse and victimization."
"Getting a victim out of a trafficking situation isn't the end goal," said James Pond, an advisor for the Abolition International Shelter Association. "There's so much that has to happen after they're removed from the situation for the recovery to be effective."
"We believe it's not just the job of professionals to be a part of the restoration process," said Mary Frances Bowley, founder and CEO of Wellspring Living, Inc., an organization fighting childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. "We need volunteers throughout the healing process and then we need the community to mentor and walk alongside these girls throughout their lives."
Other national panelists included Aaronde Creighton, board of directors for Street GRACE, an Atlanta-based organization focused on mobilizing churches to fight CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children); and Jeff Shaw, founder of Out of Darkness, a 24-hour rescue hotline in Atlanta for victims of sex trafficking and women wanting to leave the sex industry.
The second half of the summit focused in on strategies for the Hampton Roads community. A case study was conducted by local leadership along with several breakout sessions to address prevention and detection of human trafficking, the rescue of victims and prosecution of those behind the trafficking industry, local policy reform, and the restoration of victims.
"We have to make current Virginia law work for victims as well as pushing for new or amended policies," said Scott Alleman, a Virginia prosecutor and one of six local panelists helping identify the next steps for the area. Other panelists included Tiffany Crawford, Norfolk assistant public defender; Pat McKenna, co-founder and director of the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative; Chandra Moyer, founder of Release Me International; William Winfrey, FBI; and Meichell Worthing, director of restoration for sex trafficking victims for Sought Out, Inc.
From the summit, more than 50 individuals and organizations have already signed on to form a 2013 Hampton Roads Taskforce to combat trafficking next year.
Learn more about the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law.
By Amanda Morad
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