We have not had many chances to post updates about our work since we have been on the move, putting a large number of miles on our odometer. We are currently putting together information on anti-trafficking efforts we have seen in Tennessee, as well as Alabama.
In Memphis we spoke with the following organizations: Operation Broken Silence, A Bridge of Hope, the Child Advocacy Center, Nashville based Free for Life International and the YWCA Weaver Center Domestic Violence Shelter. We met with individuals from throughout the state who represented what seemed to be a growing collaboration of organizations, and we had the chance to better understand how trafficking circuits operate; and what skills pimps and traffickers are developing in order to avoid arrest and prosecution.
Something that was significant to us was a brief discussion we had with Ryan Dalton of Operation Broken Silence. Dalton, 25 years old and a law student in Memphis, said that one of the most difficult challenges he has faced in this field of advocacy work, until recently, was his age. Ryan began his work with Operation Broken Silence (OBS), directing the anti-human trafficking project, at the age of 22. He stated that he felt professionals in the field did not necessarily take him seriously when he first started with OBS. Only in the last year has he felt that age is no longer an issue with regards to his work.
This is something that we have discussed quite frequently while on the road; especially being two young females just recently out of college. It was encouraging to hear Dalton speak about his ability to overcome this barrier.
Having brought up this topic, we are greatly appreciative of the response we have received from a majority of the professionals in the field who we have reached out to. Out of everyone we have met, whether attorneys, law enforcement, advocates, psychologists, teachers, or those in the medical field, we have not yet felt that our work has gone unnoticed, or unappreciated.
Immediately following Memphis we moved quickly through Alabama. While in Hunstville, we met with Patricia McCay, human trafficking advocate and director of the newly formed Huntsville-Madison County Human Trafficking Task Force. She will soon be on her way to Washington D.C. to receive an award from the FBI recognizing her efforts to bring awareness to human trafficking issues within Alabama.
We then spent a day in Birmingham discussing collaborative anti-human trafficking efforts organized by the Women’s Fund and their partners in law enforcement and social work throughout the greater Birmingham area. State Representative Jack Williams also met with us to speak about Alabama’s first and only anti-human trafficking legislation, which he collaborated to write, sponsor and successfully pass in 2010.
Steve Searcy, Executive Director of the One Place Family Justice Center (OPFJC) and former policeman and commander of the Montgomery Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit, took time for a phone interview to speak with us regarding OPFJC’s services for sex trafficking victims.
We scheduled back-to-back meetings in Alabama, since we had not planned to stay in the state for more than a couple of days. Things were going well and we were getting a wonderful response from professionals throughout Alabama. Unfortunately, this was the day that major tornado warnings were put in place throughout the mid-west. Huntsville, just an hour or so north of Birmingham, was devastated by two tornados. Rather than wait to see how the storms turned out we decided to head as far south as we could to our next destination- Miami, Florida.
While we work to put our research together from our time in Tennessee and Alabama, we wanted to update everyone on the progress of our work.
Florida has already proven to be a project within itself. We are currently tackling an extremely large state, which is often labeled as one of three states, along with New York and California, to have the highest number of sex trafficking cases. It is also known to have a large amount of labor trafficking cases, particularly due to its geographic location, and transit use for migrant workers arriving from South America and Latin America, as well as Asia.
We began feeling overwhelmed with thoughts of how can we possibly present a clear picture for what work is being done to combat human trafficking throughout the state. However, within just a few days of arrival we were offered the opportunity to attend a multi-disciplinary training on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in Broward County, just north of Miami. Today and the next two days we will be attending this training. We will have the opportunity to meet individuals involved with anti-CSEC work in their fields, and will gain a clearer perspective on how organizations and agencies throughout the state are combatting this issue.
It has been a busy and exhaustive past few weeks, but we hope to be able to post more frequent updates on our work in the upcoming weeks.