Human Trafficking awareness event educates community
Shepherdstown and Martinsburg rotary clubs and the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Shepherd and Community hosted a free community event, “Facing the Monster of Human Trafficking,” at Shepherd University Storer Ballroom on May 22.
The event featured Carol Hart Metzker, author of “Facing the Monster: How One Person Can Fight Child Slavery,” as the guest speaker.
“The sex trafficking of human females is the top form of human trafficking in the U.S.,” Metzker said. “You don’t have to be taken to another state or country to be trafficked.”
Metzker said traffickers usually target children 11 to 14 years old, but can victimize anyone who is defenseless and isolated from a support network.
Metzker said it’s important to be wary when someone starts acting like they care deeply about someone’s emotional needs, because they could be grooming that person for trafficking. Human traffickers can be anyone – a romantic partner, friend, family member, spiritual leader, teacher or neighbor.
“The average number of times someone is sold for sex is 10 to 15 times per day,” Metzker said. “There are people out there who say they are sex workers by choice. But they have to deal with unwanted violence, unwanted diseases, so to me, it’s not a choice.”
Metzker shared a story about a 14-year-old girl from Pennsylvania who fell below the radar of social services and the public school system, and ended up trusting an online human trafficker.
“He promised her love,” Metzker said. “He would take care of her and feed her and let her live under his roof. But those promises disappeared within 24 hours of her moving in with him.”
Along with having a baby with her trafficker, the girl ended up developing Stockholm Syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his physical and emotional abuse. Now that she’s out of the situation, she’s studying for her GED.
J. Robert Leslie, West Virginia senior deputy attorney general; Katie Spriggs, Shenandoah Women’s Center executive director; and human trafficking survivor Penny Kay Hoeflinger joined Metzker for a Q&A panel after her speech, to talk about how community members can be aware of people in trafficking situations.
“I’m working with opioid addicts who are selling their kids for drugs,” Leslie said. “If you think that’s not happening, we found a 12-year-old in that situation two weeks ago.” Leslie will be training the state’s prosecutors about human trafficking recognition at an upcoming meeting to ensure trafficked individuals will not treated as offenders by the court system.
Spriggs said the Shenandoah Women’s Center works to change the culture around trafficking.
“To make a culture change, it takes people like us who are interested in making a difference,” Spriggs.
Hoeflinger, who was sold by her first husband, emphasized the importance of education.
“Trafficked victims are in plain sight,” Hoeflinger said. “What I want you to know is, education’s where it’s at. Really look at your neighbors, and care. Just care. A trucker who cared was the one thing that helped me get out of that situation.”
To view Metzker’s speech, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmJfoBeX63g&feature=youtu.be. For more information about human trafficking, visit www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign or polarisproject.org/.
To request help or report a suspected human trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.