This January Resolve to Learn How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking
By Dave Malone
President Obama issued a proclamation that January 2014 is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Do you know that human trafficking (HT) is happening in the United States and, most likely, in your local area? Do you understand what HT is? Do you know what you can do to fight this devastating crime?
Last fall, I attended (as well as helped organize) the Together Let’s Stop Trafficking Symposium, an event that was partially sponsored by American Military University (AMU) and held in Ottawa, Canada. This symposium brought together various leading organizations from around the world that work to prevent modern-day human slavery.
During the symposium, several attendees commented that people in their hometowns believe HT is a crime that only occurs in other countries or is the result of an immigration issue. The reality is: Those who believe HT doesn’t exist locally, aren’t looking hard enough!
(For a quick review of WHAT to look for, here is a fact sheet for identifying victims of HT. Or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-3737-888.)
The visibility and attention of HT efforts have multiplied over the last several years as evidenced by the President’s recent proclamation as well as increasing attention by the news media.
My first wakeup call on this issue occurred when I gave a presentation on HT to a crowd of about 70 people on behalf of Fierce Freedom, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and equip individuals, organizations and communities to help reduce HT, locally. Before the presentation I went through the crowd and asked three people if they would mind if I called on them to tell why they came to the presentation and what they hoped to get out of it.
Two of those folks had answers I was expecting (wondering what HT is and wanting to know how they could help). The third person I called on appeared to be college age and was a bit reluctant, but wanted to respond. She shared that she had been trafficked by her boyfriend who had enticed her into prostitution in order to earn money for his college expenses. She wanted to get out. Before she was done telling her story, there was hardly a dry eye in the room, including my own. Despite 32 years in law enforcement I had not realized how this crime was growing locally!
Since that time I have published three blogs about Fierce Freedom on American Military University’s In Public Safety blog. I have detailed the national efforts to address HT as well as the local efforts in Wisconsin to address HT here and here. Hopefully, reading the progress made at the local level will encourage others that they too CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Here are a few highlights of continued exposure Fierce Freedom has achieved since that last blog update:
- The office established for Fierce Freedom in August has now been furnished, mostly through donations, and has established regular office hours manned by members and volunteers. There are many advantages of having a permanent office for meetings, volunteer work, interns and victim referrals.
- Fierce Freedom applied for/received formal non-profit status (501.c3), established a formal Board of Directors consisting of President Dave Almquist, Vice-President Dave Malone, and Secretary Jodi Emerson. The board has since appointed Jenny Almquist as Executive Director (the original founder of Fierce Freedom). These two actions have made it much easier to apply for grants to assist in the mission of making people aware of HT.
- Several grants have already been received to help offset expenses.
- Fierce Freedom’s Facebook page continues to gain followers and provide a means to share information, announce presentations and upcoming events, and receive feedback
- In addition to the partnership with the Bolton Refuge House, Fierce Freedom has now also partnered with The Ruth House (a shelter for women to transition from victims to a better life). Both of these houses can provide shelter to the HT victims Fierce Freedom identifies.
This year many more events have been scheduled. Perhaps the most anticipated will be held on March 1st in Eau Claire when Fierce Freedom, in conjunction with The Living Room Coffee House and Nightlight International, hold “Slavery and Freedom” featuring Fritz Klein as President Abraham Lincoln. He is one of the nation’s best known Lincoln re-enactors.
All of the scheduled events and presentations held so far have been well received and have resulted in increasing numbers of volunteers and supporters. Even better, most of the presentations result in identifying new victims. The local law enforcement task force continues to work closely with Fierce Freedom both in the presentations and in follow-up investigations when appropriate.
After learning more about what local organizations are doing to make a difference, are you willing to be involved in the fight against human trafficking?