CULLMAN – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery, and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit human beings for some type of labor or commercial sex purpose. Every year, millions of men, women, and children worldwide—including in the United States—are victims of human trafficking. Victims are often lured with false promises of well-paying jobs or are manipulated by people they trust, but instead are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, farm or factory labor, or other types of forced labor.”
If you think such things are not an issue in Alabama, the buckle of the Bible Belt, one simple statistic should change your mind: the portion of Interstate 20 that runs from Birmingham to Atlanta is the No. 1 corridor for human sex trafficking in the United States. Even closer to home, according to Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force Chairperson Kathy Wilson, at least one case was under active investigation here as this story was being written.
Wilson and the county task force are stepping up to help combat the problem, not just here, but across the region. From June 12-15, Cullman will host two training seminars at the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement officers from all over, and even outside, the state. Once they complete the course, these officers will be able to return home and begin training other officers within their own departments in the tasks of human trafficking detection and investigation.
According to Wilson, “We are conducting the training at the Sheriff's Office new training center. Law enforcement agencies are sending officers from all over the state, even as far as Florida. The training consists of two-day sessions with a maximum of 30 officers, so we will train 60 officers over the four-day period. We had a huge response and each class filled up within a week after sending the info out.
“This training gives each officer the materials and knowledge to go back to their department and train the other officers. They are given access to DHS locked materials to provide their departments.”
On Thursday, June 15, the task force will offer a brief class to the public, that will touch on ways to protect citizens’ families and communities from trafficking activities.
To make sure all of this training is top-notch, Wilson has spared no expense, recruiting one of the top authorities on this issue in the country.
“Scott Santoro with the Department of Homeland Security will conduct the training. He is the trainer that does all the training for the department nationwide! We were able to secure his training by funding made possible by (Cullman County) District Attorney Wilson Blaylock and Judge Kim Chaney. Cullman Savings Bank also made a donation, along with Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry.”
Santoro is the senior training advisor for the department’s Blue Campaign, which brings together multiple governmental and non-governmental resources to promote awareness, protect victims, and bring offenders to justice.
The public class at a glance
- Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force public awareness and training class
- Led by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Senior Training Advisor Scott Santoro
- Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Training Center (next door to the Sheriff’s Office and jail)
- Thursday, June 15, from 6-7 p.m.
- This event is free to the public.
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