Human trafficking is something that happens some place far away, many may think, but that is not so. Oklahoma and Arkansas are prime states for modern day slavery recruitment.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, and volunteers for the first fundraiser luncheon for Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans (OATH) laid the statistics out and through personal testimony brought the horror of human trafficking to light and raised the awareness of the attendees.
According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking is the world’s second largest criminal enterprise, after drugs.
2012 Miss Oklahoma Laura Lundeen said, “Slavery never ended, it is a reality today.” She went on to say, “Thirteen million children are enslaved around the world, accounting for nearly half of the trafficking victims in the world.”
Lundeen said approximately 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation and 19 percent deals with labor exploitation.
“Human trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight, voiceless and scared,” she said, “and 300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk every year for commercial sexual exploitation. Thousands of boys and girls are falling victim and the younger they are the more they are worth.
“What concerns me is the number of people taking advantage of children,” said Cathy Mathes, one of the attendees. “Society is sick and those people have problems that need to be addressed as well.”
Edmond resident Suzi Hanson, a full-time OATH volunteer, urged the audience to become the voice of the voiceless.
Anyone can be caught up in this world of darkness, Hanson said, and anyone can be vulnerable. She added anyone can be caught in the web of human trafficking, although children living in poverty with a lower education run a higher risk of being trafficked along with children living in alcohol and drug addicted homes with no security and no love.
Hanson added children who are or have been in foster homes are also at risk.
“Twenty to 30 times a day unwilling boys and girls in captivity are forcibly raped,” Hanson said. “It is an issue of vulnerability for these women and children and it encompasses 184 countries around the globe.”
Hanson went on to say theses victims are not kidnapped, rather they are approached by a handsome, charming, older man, many times not much more than a child himself, who wins the children over before the violent behavior and abuse begins.
“The chains are not on the outside, but are psychological,” Hanson said.
Human trafficking is second only to drugs in profitability, Hanson said, at $32 million in profit a year.
“The risk is low, costing virtually nothing, and the profit is high,” Hanson said. “We must be their voices.”
OATH wants to raise awareness by educating others, especially those in law enforcement, and help them understand the girls are victims being persecuted.
Survivor Jeannetta McCrery, now 41, shared her testimony of being an 11-year-old child caught in this underworld of being prostituted by individuals looking for money machines.
As a young girl she loved church, made straight A’s, was a cheerleader and although her home life was far from perfect — she was sexually abused — she at least had a home. Things transpired and she shared she was eventually given or sold at the age of 18 to the Mexican mafia in Fort Worth. She said she escaped once only to be caught and stabbed 36 times, but yet returning because she felt she had no place else to go.
“I lost my virginity, options and opportunities,” McCrery said.
But today her life has turned around and she is learning to cook, is getting her master’s degree, is married and has a friend.
“Don’t get me wrong, my life has been a struggle and still is, but I am luckier than most,” McCrery said. “I am disease free, am attending the University of Oklahoma where I am excelling and am in love with becoming a social worker.”
She said seven years ago she meet a lady who now is 92 years old who literally led her to Christ and told her she would work with children some day.
“My life could have been so different and so much easier,” McCrery said, “but I need to help innocent children who are lost like I once was.”
Lundeen said it is important to raise awareness by providing endeavors to keep children safe by informing them in schools, working with legislators, host student clubs and community action teams.
“We must provide a safer community for our children,” Lundeen said.
There is only one safe house in Oklahoma, but it is for young women 18 and older. There are no safe houses for children under 18, Hanson said.
“One of the things OATH will be doing is fundraising for a home for minors,” Hanson said.
Hanson left the audience with the words of William Wilberforce, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
FOR MORE information or to donate, go to www.oathcoalition.org.