Human Trafficking Awareness Day January 11



Wesley House Planning Crisis Hotline
Ginger Grissom, photo right, executive director of Wesley House Community Center Inc., in Meridian, Mississippi, gives a compelling account on where they are in the fight against human trafficking. She writes about why revealing some of their service numbers can do harm, the impact of TV programming on trafficking, and the agency's "Glory Sighting." This is where they see God at work in their ministry. The Wesley House Community Center Inc. is supported by the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Women.
The most misunderstood and under reported crime of violence is the brutal act of human trafficking. Collecting statistics on human trafficking-the illegal trading of human beings for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor-is particularly difficult because of the hidden nature of trafficking activities. Although the majority of labor trafficking victims are undocumented or qualified aliens, the majority of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens as reported by the National Center for Victims of Crime.The specific number of victims over the last two years is hard to determine due to the fact that victims are non-self-identifying. Both females and males of all ages can be victims of trafficking. This crime has no boundaries. They can be of all ages, all different income levels and from all racial and religious backgrounds. The primary type of victim that has been served has been sex trafficking victims.  
Getting people to understand the importance of reporting this crime is one of the hardest areas to conquer. This includes law enforcement officials, partnering agencies, faith groups and the general public. Many fear reporting the crime due to the public's reaction and the shame it brings to them. Trafficking invades victim's lives causing terror and humiliation which often causes women to carry an unwarranted shame that may accompany the stigma connected with prostitution and trafficking. More education is needed for the community to have accurate views of the trafficked persons as victims of violent crime. 
The biggest problem in the local area is the lack of knowledge of the scope and scale of the human trafficking issue. Human trafficking is running a very close second to drug trafficking and is on its way to becoming the top organized type of crime in the world. Because of the serious and dangerous implications, Wesley House educates, trains, and can act as a source of referral for victims, but will never divulge who, what or how many and from what area our dealings are. This is to protect the staff and occupants of Wesley House, as well as the victims. Victims are non-self-identifying which requires specialized training to identify, assess and treat victims of human trafficking. This training would be required by law enforcement, medical professionals, counselors, partnering agencies, staff, legal professionals and other specialized personnel. Currently, victims of human trafficking are not open to being a part of any platform that will bring attention to them, individually.... however, we can tell some of their stories. Individuals and their families, in many cases, are in danger unless handled discretely and by professionally trained caregivers. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance when dealing with any victims of violence or crime.
Wesley House provides a clearing house for East Mississippi and West Alabama to ensure there is no duplication of services. Wesley House already provides a comprehensive service model which includes a wide variety of services that victims of human trafficking often need in order to address their needs for safety, security, and healing. The gaps in services are minimal except for the provision of sheltering victims of human trafficking. A partnership is in work to be able to provide that as well, given the funding opportunities.  
There have been a number of television programs recently that have addressed the human trafficking issue. We have seen that these television programs that address human trafficking have raised awareness and sparked some interest from a human drama perspective nationwide, but the stigma still exists that this happens to "other" people's children, (mainly in foreign countries that live in poverty). To most Americans, it is interesting to talk about, but not registering as a real threat. From our recent experience, most people in the southeast United States, especially here in Mississippi, do not see human trafficking as a real threat to our children and youth. Since the victims of human trafficking are frequently found in our jails and youth courts, they are not recognized as "victims," but rather as criminals.  
The criminals that deal in human trafficking are getting more sophisticated and using technology, social media, organized crime syndicates and other global networking elements to lure victims to serve as sex slaves, forced labor and other occupations that require human "cattle." It is incredibly profitable for the criminals and they will go to extreme lengths to evade law enforcement and gather more and more victims to make a profit.  
To prevent the spread of human trafficking, we need to work together to keep people from being victims of human trafficking. In order to do this, it comes down to one word, EDUCATION. This includes education and training of law enforcement, judiciary, medical professionals, advocates, educators, and clergy in all of our communities! Wesley House Community Center, Inc. is currently serving counties across the state of Mississippi, and is fully accredited by the Better Business Bureau as the 43rd nonprofit in our state to achieve this status. As I have said before, Wesley House seeks legitimate "need" first, then, we seek the dollars to support it. Currently, we have not had financial support for the work that we are doing in this area, but God is opening many doors through partnerships, which enable us to work together to fight human trafficking and victimization of children and families, vulnerable adults and the elderly. Would we appreciate funding, or sponsors? YES. But, with or without money, we will continue to do our best in serving those in need, whatever that might be, and to share the love of Jesus Christ as we work together for justice for all.
This is an outstanding day for The United Methodist Church! It is one in which decades of "blinders" are being taken off and eyes are opening to information through training opportunities. It means so much to those of us in the trenches, that our conference "gets it" and is allowing Wesley House to come into your areas, and train clergy and congregations about how to better serve victims of crime, as well as their abusers! To cap this article off, I would like to share the following "Glory Sighting."
Wesley House is taking the Family Justice Center to another level by taking on a "crisis and referral" hotline! This will be a number available to people in our service areas across the state of Mississippi and we will have the wherewithal to patch people through to a resource in their area! It will run the gambit. We will receive calls that could range anywhere from suicide to someone who needs an emergency taxi cab. I will share more information as we move further along, but this will be a means of assisting hurting people across our state and uniting us in mission! God is in the midst.  Please continue to allow us to come in to speak with your clergy, staff and your congregation.  
For more information about Wesley House Community Center Inc., click here.
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is observed annually on the 11 day of January.  This day originated in 2011 through President Barack Obama's declaration of January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.