CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force recently named a new chairperson and new secretary. At its last meeting, Chairperson Kathy Wilson and Secretary Blakely Hopper stepped down. Wilson asked current members if anyone was willing to step into the roles, and Ashley Dover and Carol Horstman did so readily.
Dover, who is the new chairperson, said, “Kathy felt confident in what she knew of us both personally and in the work we were already doing to bring awareness within the community. The decision was easy and informal and that’s exactly the way we want everything in the task force to be so that anyone with a desire to help bring change can do so.”
Dover first joined the task force at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited her initial involvement, but she still worked to bring awareness to the cause by starting her own Facebook page and publicizing the group’s efforts until meetings resumed.
“My transition into the group is still relatively new, but I’m excited to see what we can do together as a team and a community to bring much-needed awareness,” she said.
Before this role, she said, her main focus was homeschooling her youngest and finishing ministry school at Desperation College with the purpose of bringing hope, healing and awareness to others.
Dover said she decided to join the task force because of her own trauma and her desire to speak out for others that might not be able to yet.
“My focus is on more of the sex trafficking side and how we can recognize those at risk so we can prevent further stories of trauma,” she said. “I’d love to get into some local group/teen homes, shelters, schools and even juvie (juvenile detention center) to share my story and just open a door of communication and knowledge on the subject.”
Dover encourages any group that would like to hear her tell her story and share facts about human trafficking at their workplace, school, shelter or church to email her at email@example.com.
Horstman, the task force’s new secretary, is also the longtime executive director of Victim Services of Cullman, which has participated with the task force since it was founded.
“As a provider of emergency shelter and services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, our agency has been on the front lines of responding to trafficking victims. Because we have such a vested interest, I decided it was time that I volunteer to serve in some capacity,” she said.
Victim Services offers medical examinations and evidence collection for adult survivors of sexual assault at no charge for residents of Cullman and Winston counties. Its 24-hour hotline is 256-734-6100.
Human trafficking can be more accurately understood as human exploitation and encompasses a variety of situations. Victims are induced through force, fraud or coercion to work in various forms of exploitation including debt bondage, forced marriage, labor and commercial sexual exploitation of adults and minors. 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.
Trafficking can happen anywhere at any time but with greater probability at large sporting events, kids’ hangouts and schools.
“Cullman is not fighting these crimes as much as other bigger cities, but we still fight it, and my biggest mission is knowing and identifying the ones most susceptible – runaways, displaced and/or homeless, latchkey kids, physical or sexual abuse victims – to these crimes and how we can help make them and their caregivers aware,” explained Dover.
The task force will have an informational booth set up at the Cullman County Fair this year and will have packets of information and goodies to hand out that will help spread the word.
Its next meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 14 at noon in Cullman County District Judge Chad Floyd’s courtroom, which is located on the second floor of the Cullman County Courthouse. The meetings are open to anyone looking to learn more.
“Bringing knowledge to a community about hard subjects will create a place for prevention and a place of healing for those that need it the most,” added Dover.
If you see or know anyone at risk, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
To learn more about the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force, visit www.facebook.com/Cullman-County-Human-Trafficking-Task-Force or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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