From The Alabama Baptist

More than 225 advocates in the fight against human trafficking gathered Feb. 3–4 in Montgomery for the 8th Annual Alabama Human Trafficking Summit.

Organized by the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, the summit brought together law enforcement, survivor assistance providers, rehabilitation centers, faith-based groups, researchers, child welfare representatives and more.

The Alabama Baptist and TAB Media Group were among more than 20 exhibitors, and TAB Media’s Jennifer Davis Rash led one of the six breakout sessions during the two-day event.

Rash’s session featured faith-based groups active in the effort to fight human trafficking and how The Alabama Baptist serves a vital role in keeping the faith-based audience informed and connected. Find a list of Baptist organizations Rash highlighted here.

Other faith-based groups present included Blanket Fort HopeCamille PlaceRenew Hope 85, The WellHouseWellHouse Child and Trafficking Hope, most of which have been featured or referenced by The Alabama Baptist through the years. 

Doug Gilmer, Alabama’s resident agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations, also shared during the summit. A previous TAB Media Special Report interview with Gilmer can be watched here.

Pat McCay, chair of the task force, commended participants for the work that has been done in the fight.

“I’m so proud of all of us,” she said. “We’ve had such great accomplishments.”

Chris Lim, coordinator of the Alabama Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance, pointed out how the topics, presentations and discussions at the summit proved the work is advancing.

“We’ve grown beyond where we are still doing the basics of what is human trafficking,” he said.  “And we’ve heard a lot of how we all need to collaborate to be effective.”

Collaborative efforts growing in the state

The Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance provides the opportunity to bring it all together and come full circle with the needs of the state, Lim explained.

“We can effectively pull together … the victim service providers, law enforcement and community partners … to use our expertise and impact,” he said. 

The coordinated effort includes:

  • Survivor service coordination

  • Collaborative investigations and prosecutions

  • Data aggregation and analysis 

  • Peer-to-peer mentoring and advanced training.

The core principles for the alliance are to be trauma informed, victim centered and justice focused (seeking both survivor healing and offender prosecutions).

“We seek to collaborate … and use data-based decision making,” Lim said. “We need good, accurate data so we can make informed decisions on what type of resources are needed.”

Cameron Perry, a special agent with the alliance, said, “Our main goal is to connect … and develop the relationships. … I’d like to teach our NGOs and victim service providers to think like law enforcement and vice versa and [help all parties] understand where their options are, learning who’s out there. If we figure that out in the beginning then we don’t have to try to figure it out in the middle [once overwhelmed with cases].”

Service providers face challenges

A panel discussion by service providers who focus on rehabilitating youth survivors also highlighted the need for working together, supporting each other and understanding each step of the process.

Alexa James from Blanket Fort Hope and Carolyn Potter from The WellHouse Child shared the challenges that come when volunteers or others in the community don’t understand the process.

Everything from trauma bonding, where the survivor tries to get back to the trafficker, to a basic inability to make good decisions means the young people in the rehabilitation centers need specific guidance and intentional steps, as well as time, the service providers explained.

Healing and restoration is a process and requires the expertise of those trained for the work, they added, noting those who are rescued are not always happy about being rescued.

“We’ve dedicated our lives to this … and want to instill the hope in these youth that they have a future,” James said. “They need to know how valued they are before they can even accept our help. These kids need people who are going to stay with them. They need a moment to be restored and heal before putting … pressures on them. We clothe them, feed them, provide medical services and in 90 to 100 days, we have the opportunity for them to hear what we have to offer.”

Drivers trained to spot trafficking

Another group dedicated to making a difference is the trucking industry, said Mark Colson, president of the Alabama Trucking Association.

“Truck drivers are actually a small percentage of the perpetrators even though they are blamed a lot,” he said. “The trucking industry sees this as a major crisis. We are proud to be part of the solution and hope to continue to see progress on this front.”

Of the 3.6 million professional truck drivers in the U.S., one-third (1.2 million) of them have received the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) training, Colson said. “Awareness is what it’s all about. Education is the key.”

TAT reports indicate three consistent motivators for professional drivers to undergo the training:

TAT’s training provides information on how to identify a trafficking situation and what to do and what not to do once it is identified.

“For instance, it’s important not to approach the traffickers,” he said. Instead, contact law enforcement with a report of suspected human trafficking with the location, date and time. Also, provide a description of the vehicle, license plate and estimated height and weight of the people involved if possible.

“We have tremendous stories of reconciliation even amid the tragic stories,” Colson noted. “It’s helpful for any organization, church group or community group, not just truck drivers.

“Once we become enlightened, we have a choice,” he said. “We can take action or we can ignore but we are not left with the luxury of ignorance.”

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This story republished with permission from TAB Media Group