Locals raise awareness of human trafficking
BY KARYN SPORY
Mt. Pleasant News
Awareness is the greatest tool humanity has against human trafficking, according to Peggy Knudsen.
Knudsen, a pastor at Faith Christian Outreach Church, was one of five speakers during a human trafficking panel at First United Methodist Church, in Mt. Pleasant, on Saturday.
“This is a dark, daunting, but very important topic,” said Knudsen to the crowd congregated in the basement of the church.
Knudsen first began her crusade against this modern day slavery in 2005. “I knew human trafficking happened, but not here, not in our great country,” she said.
According to the Polaris Project, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is operated by Polaris, has received reports of 14,588 sex trafficking cases inside the United States since 2007.
Henry County Sheriff Rich McNamee said human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in America because it is high profit and low risk. “A drug dealer has to buy dope, a human trafficker steals their product and then uses it over and over and over again; they have very little expense,” he said.
Speaking to a more recent matter, McNamee said the Sheriff’s Office investigated the prostitution ring that was busted August 2015. “We weren’t able to link it to human trafficking, or at least prove it, we were highly suspicious,” he said. “So it is right here in our backyard.”
“It’s something new to us,” he continued. “I can imagine this is how officers in the 1960s and 70s reacted to this new thing when they had the war on drugs starting. Now it’s an everyday thing, it’s like second fiddle to us. But human trafficking is something new and we don’t have a lot of education on it.”
McNamee said he and his deputies have been working with Truckers Against Trafficking, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and travel plaza industry to combat domestic sex trafficking.”
McNamee and Knudsen both emphasized that if you see something, say something.
As director of the Fellowship Cup, Ken Brown said he and his staff are on the front lines of this issue and they are rapidly trying to educate themselves as well as Henry County citizens.
“We’re not just a food pantry, we are on the front line, I believe, of this very problem,” he said.
Brown said he couldn’t confirm if any human trafficking victims have passed through Henry County, but he said, looking back, there have been instances that have made him question it.
“When I think to different incidents and different situations we were confronted with, with young women under the age of 30, we wonder if that was going on at the time,” he said. “We think about, if a woman doesn’t have any means to purchase food, no cards no cash no ID, where do they go? They go to a food pantry.”
Brown said he and his staff are on the look out for red flags. Brown said he is also trying to build a rapport with the community and those who use the Fellowship Cup. “At least build a relationship where trust builds and people can share,” he said. “All we can do is ask questions and be there when they want to talk.”
Like Brown and McNamee, Knudsen said the goal of the event was awareness.
“Once you see them,” she said, “they’re no longer a statistic. The biggest thing we can do is to raise awareness, to motivate and activate you,” said Knudsen.
For more information about human trafficking, visit polarisproject.org.