Did you know that Ohio is #5 in the nation for human trafficking?
We developed an initiative, Safeguarding Those Oppressed by Predators (S.T.O.P.), that perfectly ties into all of our programs focused on raising awareness of the immorality of human trafficking.
In developing the S.T.O.P. initiative, we decided that we wanted to focus on prevention. In other words, we want to stop it before it happens.
“If we can protect one student from being trafficked, it will be worth it…whether it’s stopping them from being picked up or them recognizing a friend in danger. It’s about preventing and reducing trauma for children, and FYI is focused on protecting those we serve,” said Nikki Stefanow, FYI Executive Director. “Another part of this awareness is also making parents aware of what red flags to look for in their children and their friends, and making people aware of what human trafficking isn’t. Some people think it’s a white van that comes up and steals kids. That’s not what happens most of the time. Most of the time it is someone the child knows and trusts who traffics them. We aren’t recognizing the signs and it’s happening in right in our own backyard.”
The United Nations refers to human trafficking as the hidden figure of crime. According to DoSomething.org, it is a $150 billion per year industry which has an estimated 20-40 million victims internationally caught in its evil web. Becoming known as modern-day slavery, one in four human trafficking victims are children and 70 percent are females. The average age of a child entering the sex trade is 12 to 14.
“They are right here in our middle schools and high schools, right under our noses. We’re just not seeing it,” said newest FYI board member Ryan Wallace, in reference to human trafficking victims.
FYI has a presence in 65 schools within six different counties with our Real Life...Teen Choices and Mentoring programs. We are already on the frontlines and are positioned to help. Both programs are teaching life and decision-making skills, curriculums in which human trafficking awareness and prevention fits well.
“What it really amounts to is that it’s a form of abuse,” Wallace said. “The likelihood of FYI staff and school districts coming in contact with a victim is very high. You root it out with awareness.”
He added that schools are often the safest place for some students.
“There are teachers and guidance counselors who care about them and provide a safe space for them to be in,” Wallace said. “These are connection points. If teachers and students are educated on this, they can recognize and pinpoint signs of human trafficking. It’s a natural battlefront. It’s an area where FYI can be pivotal to raise awareness,” he said. “We already have the partnerships. It’s just enhancing our services and enhancing the value that FYI brings to the table.”
Our mission of educating, equipping and empowering happen to be keys in raising awareness for human trafficking as well.
“The more that we’re educated, the more we can share that knowledge with other educators, the more we can prevent this from happening in our own neighborhoods and schools,” Ryan said. “It’s also about rescuing victims, rescuing survivors. The more people we have paying attention to it, the higher the likelihood we are going to save someone through this. We want to root it out, help prevent it and save lives,” he added. “It’s all worth it to save one person.”
It is such a huge problem that we will not be able to tackle alone.
“It’s going to take a community effort,” Wallace said. “We need partners: school districts, local organizations, government entities.”
Human trafficking poses such a big problem because it often happens in anonymity.
“We don’t talk about it enough,” he said. “The more we talk about it, the more everything will pay attention to it. The general consensus is that it is not happening in our local community, but it actually is.”
As it is with all our programs, the goal is rescuing children and saving lives.
“We see an opportunity to be a huge influencer in this space,” he said. “We’re leveraging our partnerships to really make a difference. We have an incredible opportunity to grow this awareness. There’s an incredible need for help in this area.”
Is this issue close to your heart as well? Give us a call at (937)845-0403 and join the fight.
THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO HELP FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING:
CREATE SAFE SPACES FOR OPEN CONVERSATION. This includes topics like healthy relationships, pornography, purchasing sex, domestic violence and mental health, among others.
ORGANIZE A HYGIENE OR CLOTHING DRIVE FOR LOCAL AGENCIES. Be sure to contact your agency of choice to see what it needs.
HOST AN EVENT to raise community awareness and encourage ongoing conversations - i.e. show a documentary, invite a local speaker to a coffee shop or your religious center, or train your neighborhood watch.
CONNECT WITH YOUR LOCAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING COALITION. If your area does not have one, create one!
CALL THE NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE at 1-888-373-8888 if you recognize some of the red flags of trafficking in your community.