Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and representatives from Veronica’s Voice and other community organizations hosted Hear Their Voices Sept. 9-10 in Kansas City to offer education for prevention of human sex trafficking and raise support for trafficking survivors.
The collaborative two-day initiative included door-to-door distribution of information to 1,000 area homes, prayers for youth safety, and a symposium-concert at the Jack Reardon Convention Center featuring over 20 musicians and guest speakers.
Rénee Battle-Brooks, an assistant state’s attorney who prosecutes sex trafficking cases in Maryland, presented an overview of sex trafficking in the United States.“If a pimp ‘owns’ one child, that pimp can collect, on average, $1 million [per year] cash, tax free,” she said. That is why reducing the demand for commercialized sex is so important.
Battle-Brooks pointed out that if there was no demand, providing a supply would no longer be profitable. She also cited the growing risk for male gay and transgender populations, as incidents of sex trafficking have risen sharply among those groups.
During the event, Kristy D. Childs, founder of Veronica’s Voice, a Kansas City organization providing safe housing, health care, legal assistance, and a two-year life skills training program for survivors of commercialized sexual exploitation, shared information relevant to the metropolitan area.
Ivona Bernard, coordinator for this ground-breaking event, stated that one of the main goals of Hear Their Voices was to provide “an emphasis on human sex trafficking prevention, in order to keep people from being lured into exploitative situations.” While reports show that sex trafficking is happening in every town and across all socioeconomic and cultural demographics, Kansas City has the second highest incidences of domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States.
Childs talked about the extreme trauma experienced by trafficking victims. Each year, over one-third of the 2.8 million runaways are trafficked within 48 hours. Childs, herself a trafficking survivor, ran away from home to escape abuse when she was 12 and endured many years of sexual exploitation and multiple abortions. She had decided that suicide was her only option and had planned how to end her life. “But God spoke into my spirit,” Childs said, “and assured me He would free me.”
A Wider Circle of Support
On Sunday organizers from the North American Division, Shawnee Mission Health, the Mid-America Union Conference, and four state conferences held a community expo on the grounds of Central States Conference of Seventh-day Adventists geared toward informing families in a safe and engaging environment about how children and teens become ensnared in sex trafficking. Interactive learning stations focused on awareness and prevention of trafficking through activities, puppet shows, live music, graphic images, and conversations with representative from the Kansas City police department, Veronica’s Voice, and Sunflower House, a Kansas City organization working against child abuse.
One attendee at the event remarked, “Sex trafficking is so dark, so scary, so evil. We don’t want to think about it. But we need to.”
Donna Jackson, associate ministerial director for pastoral spouses for the NAD, said she was excited to see the power of effective collaboration between Kansas City Adventist churches and community organizations in raising awareness and support for Veronica’s Voice as it helps people re-establish their lives. “I’m praying that this event will have a wide influence by challenging people to become aware of what is happening in their own communities and support local organizations fighting human trafficking,” Jackson said.
The weekend’s events raised several thousand dollars for Magdalene House, the transitional home with rooms for five women being operated by Veronica’s Voice. Terrel Bishop, who manages Magdalene House, said they are aiming to open six more homes in Kansas City. “We need that many,” she stated. “Freedom is a human right. Everyone matters.”
What can you do?
Event organizers shared the following ways in which citizens can help:
- Become aware; educate yourself about the signs of trafficking
- Donate to support safe housing and trauma-informed therapy for survivors
- Trust your gut. If a situation doesn’t seem right call the national hotline 888.373.7888
- Get involved. Ask local, state and federal lawmakers to hold the guilty accountable.
- Show up for jury duty!
For more information or to make a secure donation to assist survivors, visit www.veronicasvoice.org.
Photo: Mic Thurber