On Wednesday, Jan. 27, SGA hosted a Town Hall to raise awareness around the issue of sex trafficking.
Two speakers, Ellie Friedman and Abby Grace Worrell of the Guardian Group in partnership with the Junior League of Birmingham presented a PowerPoint to discuss the topic of sex trafficking.
Through the Junior League of Birmingham, Friedman and Worrell offer free community training, and work with hospitality services such as hotels to spread awareness about trafficking.
To start off the presentation, Friedman and Worrell explained what sex trafficking is. Trafficking is classified as a commercial sex act that involves force, fraud or coercion. When it involves trafficking minors, force, fraud or coercion do not have to be proven.
There are also different types of trafficking. The familial trafficking, survival sex, Romeo pimp, Gorilla pimp and illicit massage parlors were some of the types of trafficking discussed in the PowerPoint.
The two explained trafficking is a business, and not only is it a business, but one thriving in Birmingham and other nearby locations. Traffickers are successful because they target girls who are more vulnerable, such as girls who are in foster care.
In Birmingham alone, it is a 100-million-dollar industry. Typically, the average buyers are 33-44 years old, 1/3 of buyers are married and many have children under 18 years old. For those being trafficked, the average age of entry into the sex trade is 15 years old.
Because of Birmingham is a hub for sex trafficking due to its wide connections of interstates that lead to many major cities in the South. In 2017, Birmingham reported having 122,000 Escort Ads and in those ads 88,000 of them were in the 18-25 age category. In those 122,000 Ads 2,600 were minors for sale.
As the presentation carried on, Friedman and Worrell explained community indicators to look for if concerned that someone is being trafficked. One is if a victim cannot tell you where they are or where they are from.
Another indication could be multiple computers and cellphones, as well as unexplained cash, condoms and other sex items. Another sign can be certain language or words. Lastly, is a sudden change in behavior and appearance in a young person.
While there are community indicators in actions, there are also indicators in appearance. Brands and tattoos of a crown, rose or someone’s name can often be an indicator. Another indicator is if a girl seems inappropriately dressed for her age.
If a minor is seen with someone at a hotel during school hours or late at night, this can also a sign. The last sign the presentation mentioned was if a young person is being demanded or controlled and is not willing to make eye contact.
As Friedman and Worrell continued to speak on the topic of sex trafficking, they had a small activity for the audience to participate in. The idea of the game was to look at the images shown on the presentation slide for a minute and then in the chat option of Zoom, say all the images you could recall.
After the audience participated in this brief activity, Friedman and Worrell explained that the mental notes we used for this activity are also the same mental notes we must make when faced with indications that someone may be trafficked.
Friedman and Worrell furthermore explained how fast we must act upon our intuitions when faced with the difficult situations dealing with sex trafficking.
With all the facts and statistics laid out about sex trafficking, Friedman and Worrell explained what to do if you do suspect sex trafficking. The first thing to note is to not confront the victim, as this could jeopardize safety for both parties.
It is just as important to remember as many details about the potential victim and situation as possible. They also mentioned that if you see something, say something. Two ways a person can say something is to either call 911 or report what the person saw to the Blue Campaign at 1-866-347-2423.
To bring the presentation to a close, Worrell left the audience with the reminder that “You cannot see the psychological abuse a trafficker is going through.”
While this Town Hall event was insightful and helpful for many Montevallo students, some members of SGA had some issues with the event.
“I feel as though the information provided was outdated and somewhat misinformed, and that there weren’t actually a lot of resources provided to defend yourself and others against trafficking,” said Josie Jones, sophomore political science major.
Jones also noticed that there seemed to be informational bias that could potentially turn the audience away from the message.
Another student, Solomon Balaam Reed, senior class president, expressed, “I wish they talked about how it affects black and other minorities in the state, but I love all of the work that they are doing for the state and protecting these girls.”
Despite these complaints, Reed said that every time the group comes to speak, he learns a lot.