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HEAT to hold public awareness event

By Staff | Mar 27, 2015

The Eastern Panhandle HEAT (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) group was founded out of a need for awareness of the issue of human trafficking. It’s a grass-roots organization, started by a couple of women who believe what Margaret Mead said – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Since the group’s inception about three years ago, it has grown as other community members have also been struck by this terrible issue and have found themselves needing to do something to fight it.

Human trafficking is the term used for modern-day slavery. It happens in the United States, as well as overseas. In fact, there are more slaves today than ever in human history. In many cases, it looks similar to slavery in our history books – someone is held against their will and forced to do manual labor. In other cases, it looks a little different (though this is not new, either). In these cases, often young girls (and sometimes young boys) are abducted and forced to engage in sexual activities for money. These young girls are all vulnerable, but, again, the circumstances can look very different. Vulnerability can come in the way one might expect – children in foster care, children who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse from a young age. But it can also occur in those who look like they have well put together lives – young girls whose parents are very successful, have money and work long hours.

One this happens in the U.S. is for a young girl to be wooed by a slightly older guy. She falls in love, thinks he loves her, then he starts telling her that she owes him – for what he’s bought her, for rentHe tells her he has a way she can make money to benefit both of them. Force, fraud and coercion are key indicators of sex trafficking.

But, it doesn’t happen in West Virginia, right? If one looks at a map of trafficking reports (or convictions), it may seem not to happen in West Virginia. However, according to the State’s Attorney General’s Office, the reason for this is that the anti-trafficking laws here are new and have not yet been fully enforced. The map will show hot-spots of trafficking to the north, east, south and west of W est Virginia. They aren’t respecting our borders, it’s just not being identified within this state.

On March 28, from 9 a.m. to noon, the Eastern Panhandle HEAT and Aglow International are offering the first large public awareness event together at the American Public University System in Charles Town. The event will feature speakers from every aspect of this issue – awareness, prevention, restoration. Representatives are coming from the academic sector, victim services, public schools, the church and law enforcement. Parents, educators, law enforcement and/or others who cares about children in this community, are encouraged you to attend. This is a free event. Attendees will leave armed with awareness and and steps to take as concerned citizens, to help.

For more information, write jenny.childs@me.com or call 304-728-4932.