Representatives from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Veronica’s Voice, and other community organizations hosted Hear Their Voices Sept. 9-10, 2017, in Kansas City, United States, to offer education for prevention of human sex trafficking and to provide support to existing survivors.
The collaborative two-day initiative included door-to-door distribution of awareness-raising information to 1,000 area homes, prayers for youth safety, and a symposium/concert at the Jack Reardon Convention Center featuring more than 20 musicians and guest speakers Rénee Battle-Brooks, an assistant state’s attorney who prosecutes sex trafficking cases in Maryland, and Kristy D. Childs, founder of Veronica’s Voice, a Kansas City organization providing safe housing, health care, and a two-year life skills training program for survivors of commercialized sexual exploitation.
Ivona Bernard, coordinator of 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, the Kansas City metropolitan area has the second highest incidences of domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States.*
During her presentation, Battle-Brooks stated that trafficking takes place in high volume at sporting events, state fairs, casinos, and business conventions. “Every time I travel, I look around and wonder who on my airplane and at my hotel is being trafficked,” she said. Battle-Brooks pointed out how pop culture glamorizes commercialized sex through music and movies. “The evil of human trafficking will continue as long as society allows it,” she declared.
Childs, herself a trafficking survivor, talked about the unfathomable trauma experienced by victims of trafficking. She reported that the average age for entry into sex trafficking is 11-14, and most victims live for less than seven years. Childs described how after her many years of abuse 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 and my unborn son. God didn’t make people to be bought and sold,” she added.
“We each dream of a world that will be better when we leave it than when we came into it,” concluded Clarence Small, emcee for the event that raised several thousand dollars for the safe house operated by Veronica’s Voice. After the program, some attendees said the most powerful moments of the evening for them were when three trafficking survivors (silhouetted for protection) shared their stories by video. One survivor said, “I knew I would die if I didn’t get out.” Another stated, “I’m learning how to have a voice...and it feels really good.”
Shaping a Better World
The following day organizers from the North American Division (NAD), Shawnee Mission Health, the Mid-America Union Conference, and four state conferences held a community expo on the campus 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 representatives from the Kansas City police department, Veronica’s Voice, and Sunflower House, a Kansas City organization working against child abuse.
Throughout the afternoon, attorney Amanda Rodriguez shared insights about trafficking from her work with the FBI, Homeland Security, and Turn Around, Inc. while explaining how children become trapped in sex trafficking. “Love and belonging is a huge part of it,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone needs a sense of community. Pimps and groomers are smart, crafty predators, skilled at finding out what someone’s needs are and promising to meet them.”
Rodriquez stated that current estimates indicate over 100,000 children are being sex trafficked every year in the United States. Worldwide, trafficking has now surpassed gun running as the number two illegal commercial crime. If the alarming trends continue, human trafficking will overtake drug dealing and become the leading criminal enterprise in the world, Rodriguez said. She emphasized that awareness is the most important aspect of prevention. “Once you have the information, you can reduce vulnerability.”
Donna Jackson, associate ministerial director for pastoral spouses for the NAD and one of the main event planners, 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 in helping 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.
As one attendee was leaving, she exclaimed, “I just have to get involved with this. It’s something I can volunteer to help with right now.”