Alabama enters Human Trafficking Awareness Month with high marks

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Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force Chairperson Kathy Wilson in her office on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2018 (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN – At the beginning of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force Chairperson Kathy Wilson pointed happily to a new study showing that Alabama has made dramatic improvements in its response to the crime of modern slavery.  Shared Hope International (SHI), a faith-based organization that fights trafficking and works to help victims recover, is celebrating the results of its annual Protected Innocence Challenge “report card” for states’ responses to child sex trafficking, and its findings give Alabama a top score.

According to the SHI report, “The Protected Innocence Challenge is based on the Protected Innocence Challenge Legislative Framework, which was informed by research performed by Shared Hope International and compiled in ‘The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.’  Domestic minor sex trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children under the age of 18 within U.S. borders for the purposes of prostitution, pornography, or sexual performance.

“Recognizing that most of the gaps in responding to domestic minor sex trafficking must be addressed at the state level, the Protected Innocence Challenge Legislative Framework sets out the basic policy principles required to create a safer environment for children.  The steps necessary to create this safer environment include the following: preventing domestic minor sex trafficking through reducing demand, rescuing and restoring victims through improved training on identification, establishing protocols and facilities for victim placement, mandating appropriate services and shelter, and incorporating trauma-reducing mechanisms into the justice system.  Broken systems of criminal justice and child welfare responses to victims must also be fixed to ensure that commercially sexually exploited children are treated as victims and receive access to justice.”

At the outset of the program in 2011, Alabama scored a troubling D.  After improving to a B over six years, the state was one of 10 to earn an A on the 2018 national report card.  Out of 51 entries including the District of Columbia, Alabama was ranked fourth overall.

At the local level, Wilson recently met with the Cullman County Mayors and Commissioners Association, asking all the county’s mayors to issue proclamations recognizing January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.  She told The Tribune that all mayors showed willingness to participate in the effort, which has previously included only Cullman’s mayor and Cullman County commissioners.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Scott Santorum has been to Cullman previously to provide training for law enforcement, judicial and victim support personnel.  Wilson hopes to bring him back in 2019 for more training events, though he will have to wait until after the current government shutdown ends. Task force partnerships with federal authorities have succeeded in bringing national drug enforcement personnel to the area to address students in local schools about the opioid crisis.

Wilson herself has been asked by the state task force to sit on a community awareness panel at this year’s Alabama Human Trafficking Summit in Montgomery on Feb. 8.  

Find out more

Wilson and the task force will have an information table set up at Karma’s Coffee House, 103 First Ave. NE in the Warehouse District, on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Jan. 11.  Residents can drop by and find out a little more about who the task force is and what they do, and about what members of the community can do to combat human slavery.

“We’re still here,” said Wilson.  “I just wanted to raise the light back that, hey, we’re here.  You know, we haven’t gone anywhere.”

For more information visit www.facebook.com/Cullman-County-Human-Trafficking-Task-Force-870585096352748/.

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