Human trafficking occurs all over the world — even the Quad-Cities. More than 90 guests learned disturbing facts about how young people are forced into the sex industry during “Breaking Free: A Conference on Human Trafficking” Sunday at the Center for Active Seniors Inc., or CASI, 1035 W. Kimberly Road, Davenport. Newcomb Presbyterian Church in Davenport hosted the conference that was free and open to anyone.
“(Human trafficking) is a modern form of slavery that takes place in the United States,” said Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA, or End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children. The New York-based group's mission is to protect every child’s basic human right to grow up free from the threat of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
“Poverty is certainly a contributing factor. But there are other factors as well,” Smolenski said.
Often children who have been sexually abused become involved in prostitution. “Many are kids who don’t come from a protective background,” she said.
Smolenski said that preadolescent and other young people are integrated into the adult sex market. Instead of being arrested and prosecuted, she said, they should be referred to the child-welfare system.
She showed a video in which women who had been trafficked told their stories. One, a child of divorced parents, said that the other women she knew in the sex trade also came from broken homes. “The traffickers fill that void,” serving as father figures or “boyfriends,” she said.
“Much of our work is about protecting vulnerable people from being sold,” Smolenski said. “Men, for the most part, are the buyers.”
She encouraged everyone to start talking about this issue, and to raise this “really troubling” discussion about the sex industry with people they know.
She suggested purchasing from fair trade stores, such as the SIS International store in downtown Davenport, to ensure items aren’t produced by slave labor. She also encouraged those attending to simply mentor a child.
Also speaking was Jane Hoffman of Braking Traffik: Stopping Sexual Exploitation in the QCA, whose mission is to support and enable the discovery of and response to incidents of sex trafficking through a victim-centered, multidisciplinary, and collaborative community effort on both sides of the river.
“It is our mission to eradicate sex trafficking in the Quad-Cities,” she said.
About 100,000 American children are trafficked every year, she said.
She showed “Any Kid Anywhere: Sex Trafficking Survivor Stories,” a film that features three young women from Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and the Quad-Cities.
Sharon Larrison of Davenport, a member of Newcomb Presbyterian Church, said that, after she learned about deplorable conditions of human trafficking, she asked, “How can this exist in the world without people knowing about it?
“I thought we needed a conference to educate,” she said. The Presbyterian Church, she said, has an association with ECPAT. She considers human trafficking to be a faith-based issue and said that “the natural worth and integrity of every person” should be recognized. She was pleased with the attendance.
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, also spoke. The ministry works to advocate within the United Nations community, guided by policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, and to equip Presbyterians to live as global disciples.
Also represented at the conference were Family Resources SafePath Survivor Resources and Rick’s House of Hope, a regional center for grieving and traumatized youth.