AAUW Medina County has been in the forefront of creating awareness of this issue, both in programming to inform residents of the pervasive problem and in the formation of the Medina County Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
Last month there were “mis-guided” human trafficking events taking place in many cities, including Medina that were not sanctioned by organized local human trafficking coalitions. Their use of #SavetheChildren or #Save Our Children is meant to attract people to their rally. Save the Children is the trademarked name for an international humanitarian organization that is well known for their works to protect children and is not connected with the local events. Over 200 rallies were held the same weekend in August, and another is planned to take place in October.
This organization may have good intentions to raise awareness of human trafficking; however, the information they project isn’t always accurate, and they portray a picture of how children are being kidnapped that is simply not how most children are trafficked. As Rhonda Wurgler stated in a Gazette article on September 1, “Sharing inaccurate information can cause unfounded panic within the community and cause survivors and victims of human trafficking to question if they are truly victims.”
It has been reported that these groups have members who believe in QAnon, whose members believe in conspiracy theories such as the one especially circulating in 2016 in which well-known people, such as Hillary Clinton, Oprah, and others are pedophiles that are kidnapping the children. The believers in this have latched onto the #SavetheChildren name. They have spread false information to millions on Facebook and were labeled by the FBI as a possible domestic terrorist group in 2019.
Our Medina County Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which also is not affiliated with #Save Our Children, has been working to raise awareness and to save victims since 2014. Proudly, our AAUW branch has been a member and has had a big role in the success of their efforts. Many of our members have participated in awareness events, have helped raise money through the Nate Vermote Run to Freedom and have been active visiting hotels in our SOAP project. The coalition is open to all community members. There will be a training opportunity in September to learn more about human trafficking, and SOAP in the near future will be offering ZOOM training.
The next Human Trafficking meeting will be at 10 am on Thursday, September 24 at the Children’s Center. For more information, contact Carol Thombs at 330-421-1932, or via email: email@example.com
2019’s Human Trafficking Awareness Event was held in January at the Comfort Inn in Wadsworth. Presenters Suzanne Lewis-Johnson and Greg Colbeck represented RAHAB (Reaching Above Hopelessness And Brokenness) of Akron. Lewis-Johnson, now CEO at RAHAB is a former FBI Agent; Colbeck is Operations Manager. Attendees included paramedics, health care providers, social workers, law enforcement personnel, court officers, volunteers and hotel staff.
Medina Branch was a sponsor of the 4th Annual Nate Vermote 5K and 1 mile Run/Walk on July 29 to support the Medina County Coalition against Human Trafficking. Members and spouses participated in the walk/run and served as event assistants.
The 2018 Human Trafficking Awareness Workshop spotlighted Dr.Tanisha L. Knighton, independent consultant and national trainer from Cleveland. Her experience with missing children, with the courts and law enforcement enabled her to share a view of human trafficking from the inside. Frank and at times “unsettling”, she brought this ever-growing industry to light with photos, headlines and terminology.
The Medina Coalition Against Human Trafficking held its 2017 Awareness Workshop on April 20. Attending were over 100 teachers, social workers, EMT personnel, persons in law enforcement and other interested members of the community. Carol Thombs and Pat Chaloupek represented AAUW; Thombs is also a member of the Coalition and serves as SOAP chair, making sure that area motels are regularly visited with updates on missing children and furnishing them with mini bars of soap imprinted with the HT hotline.
Keynote speaker was Rachel Kaisk, a survivor who was trafficked from the Barberton area when she was a teenager. A need for love and attention led her into being trafficked, one of the conditions that makes teens susceptible to this crime. She gave a frank overview of her bondage and emphasized that the three ingredients for trafficking are greed, demand and vulnerability.
Important to her recovery was support and counseling given by the Renee Jones Empowerment Center on Cleveland’s west wide. Founder Renee Jones also addressed the workshop, emphasizing that “awareness saves lives.” The biggest needs for victims are a safe place to go and peer support and counseling. The Center provides a variety of therapies–including horse therapy–and support groups which are similar to AA programs. “It is a lifetime program,” Jones said, “helping people to learn how to live normal lives again.” Included is prevention, education and awareness, court advocacy and supervision to help victims.
In 2016, the Coalition sponsored the half-day “Human Trafficking Workshop: Freeing the Modern Slaves,” featuring Theresa Flores, author, advocate and human trafficking survivor. She spoke on how teens are targeted and get caught in the business of sexual slavery. She also discussed the origin of the S.O.A.P. Program (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) which she conceived as a hands-on outreach program to fight sex trafficking at large events and in communities. We learned how teams in our area are working to disperse information and bars of soap with contact information for the Sex Trafficking Hot Line at hotels and motels.