CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force participated in Human Trafficking Awareness Day activities Friday, and Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs officially proclaimed Saturday, Jan. 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the city for the fifth consecutive year. Many municipalities have also proclaimed January Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Both designations are also recognized nationally.
The Tribune sat down with Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force Chairperson Kathy Wilson Friday morning.
“We are thrilled that the City of Cullman and Mayor Jacobs are so supportive of the Human Trafficking Task Force. Two weeks ago, we signed that Cullman would be a ‘TraffickingFree Zone,’ the first city north of Birmingham to do that, so we are really, really proud of that, and we just want to thank Mayor Jacobs and the City for what they do,” she said.
The Task Force set up at Karma’s Coffee House in downtown Cullman Friday in order to speak with the public and share information.
“Our goal for Cullman, because a lot of people say, ‘It doesn’t here, it doesn’t happen here,’ well, we call that sticking your head in the sand because it does happen here. It’s real, and we want people to know is what to look for, which is why we put our educational material out. If you can educate yourself and raise awareness, then you can educate someone else. I’ve said it many, many times, but we have an excellent quality of life here in Cullman and it’s not by chance: it’s by choice and it’s from the leaders we have here in Cullman. If we can keep our quality of life and protect our children, then we are successful. The only way to protect our children is to make yourself aware.”
Breaking the stereotype of human trafficking
“(District) Judge (Kim) Chaney uses a great example, and I love his example. It’s not original, it came from him,” said Wilson. “He said back when he was growing up, it was the man in the van trying to lure you in with candy. Now, that man in that van with that candy is inside your child’s bedroom on their gaming system, in the palm of their hand; that man is everywhere. That man looks like your child’s teacher, youth leader or neighbor. The stereotype that people have of this pimp in a fur coat and a gold chain in a top hat, those are gone. What I always tell people: if it doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right to you, then it’s probably not. I always also stress to people do not attempt to do any kind of rescue, intervention, nothing. Do not do that, because for a trafficker, that is their job. If you try interrupt their job, making their money, then you’re probably going to get hurt. So always contact law enforcement.”
The City of Cullman released this statement on Friday’s proclamation:
On Friday, January 10, 2020, Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs officially proclaimed January 11, 2020, ‘Human Trafficking Awareness Day’ in the City of Cullman. On hand to accept the proclamation were Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force members Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock, Brooks’ Place/Child Advocacy Center (CAC) Executive Director Gail Swafford, Brooks’ Place/CAC Forensic Interviewer Blakely Hopper, Cullman County Juvenile Probation Officer & Task Force Chairperson Kathy Wilson, and District Judge Kim Chaney.
“The City of Cullman appreciates the work of the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force continues to do to bring awareness to the human trafficking problem,” said Jacobs. “They are committed to doing everything possible to prevent this terrible crime from happening in Cullman and Cullman County.”
Human trafficking, often referred to as “modern-day slavery,” involves the use of coercion, force, or fraud to get victims to perform labor or commercial sex acts against their will. It is a large and thriving criminal industry that can be found throughout the world. It can take many forms (debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, commercial sexual exploitation), but in every case goes against the core principles of individual freedom and civil rights our nation was built upon.
The majority of human trafficking victims are pre-teens or teenagers. Young victims are often lured into traps by people they consider friends, or even by family members. Also, because of our close proximity to the Interstate and other major highways, Cullman is a prime location for perpetrators of human trafficking.
The Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force was organized to work with local law enforcement and other agencies to help prevent human trafficking in our community. The first step to prevent human trafficking is to educate the public. The task force strives to do that through holding public meetings and by sponsoring community events designed to explain what human trafficking is and how people can recognize it. The task force also advocates for changes in local, regional, and state policies related to human trafficking. The volunteer task force is made up of individuals from various departments and agencies throughout the community.
What is human trafficking?
According to the Alabama Criminal Code, Section 13A-6-153:
(a) A person commits the crime of human trafficking in the second degree if:
(1) A person knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture or engagement for the purpose of sexual servitude or labor servitude.
(2) A person knowingly recruits, entices, solicits, induces, harbors, transports, holds, restrains, provides, maintains, subjects, or obtains by any means another person for the purpose of labor servitude or sexual servitude.
(3) A corporation, or any other legal entity other than an individual, may be prosecuted for human trafficking in the second degree for an act or omission only if an agent of the corporation or entity performs the conduct which is an element of the crime while acting within the scope of his or her office or employment and on behalf of the corporation or entity, and the commission of the crime was either authorized, requested, commanded, performed, or within the scope of the person’s employment on behalf of the corporation or entity or constituted a pattern of conduct that an agent of the corporation or entity knew or should have known was occurring.
(4) Any person who obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, or in any way interferes with or prevents the enforcement of this section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
(b) Human trafficking in the second degree is a Class B felony.
If you suspect a human trafficking instance or emergency, please either call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BeFree (233733), or call the Department of Homeland Security’s trafficking hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423).
To find out more about the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force, visit www.facebook.com/Cullman-County-Human-Trafficking-Task-Force or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on human trafficking in Alabama can be found at www.enditalabama.org or www.stnow.org.
The Cullman Tribune is the media partner of the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force.
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