TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – We would never want to think that something horrific was happening to children in our community.
But the harsh reality is this – more than a hundred thousand children in the United States are in danger of becoming sexual commodities every year!
Children for sex. It’s called human trafficking and it affects every culture, every economic background and every demographic.
“….I was 17….drugged, raped, trafficked out of my own bedroom…”
They are young American girls objectified, sold into a world where they no longer have a name.
Their humanity is stripped away and they are simply an exchange.
Over 100,000 American children have been exploited in the commercial sex industry. A rapidly growing crime second only in the world to drug dealing.
“It’s a problem in our own community,” Vanessa Granger-Belcher said. “It’s a problem in our own state. It’s a problem in our own society”.
Vanessa Granger-Belcher, 31, is a second year student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.
A grant from ISU paid for Vanessa and 10 other students to travel to New Jersey prior to the Super Bowl this February.
The girls joined hundreds of other volunteers teaching hotel and motel workers the signs of human trafficking – asking workers if they recognize girls from a poster of missing children in the area and handing out soap to businesses.
Soap bars wrapped with the national human trafficking hotline in hopes of rescuing helpless victims.
“The only time the girls are alone is in the bathroom,” said Dana Edwardson, 26, Mental Health Counseling student. “So this way, they have easy access to the number. A good way to sneak out and get away from someone who may be forcing them to do something they don’t want to do”…
Dana was also a part of that ISU team and she said that rescue trip paid off.
“One of the hotel managers found two girls he recognized,” she explained. “2 of the girls as being customers at the hotel. So we gave that information to the authorities…”
VIDEO | Extended Interview with Edwards
Dana and Vanessa are young advocates working to get the word out about human trafficking in our country.
An underground business they say is happening in our state and even in our community.
You may even think human trafficking isn’t happening here?
Well, consider this – Terre Haute has two major highways running through it, Interstate 70 and U. S. Highway 41.
This is a perfect pipeline for predators to prey on vulnerable kids from the Wabash Valley.
“We are a community of a lot of want and need. And traffickers look at that. These are the young people they target,” Vanessa said. “The ones who are very transient…the ones that might not have the most stable home…that are always looking for a source of income. That’s what predators look for and to say that we don’t have these children in our community. We obviously know we do!” There might not be a young person being trafficked out on our streets. We obviously don’t see that here in Terre Haute but that doesn’t mean they’re not being trafficked in a larger city or halfway across the world.”
And perhaps that is the biggest concern, young people taken from here and trafficked somewhere else far from home.
No longer a name – simply flesh for sale.
This ISU group will also go to the Indianapolis 500 and the NCAA Final Four in Dallas this year to educate area hotel workers and the public about human trafficking.
They have also partnered with local churches and non-profit groups to teach you about this growing epidemic of flesh for sale.
Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute is using prayer and prevention to help bring awareness to human trafficking.
Maryland church members hold a weekly prayer meeting (called a justice prayer meeting) every Tuesday from 10 am – Noon in the Children’s Freedom Center in the church. Everyone is welcome to join.
Christian radio station WBGL out of Champaign, Ill. is trying to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking.
During the month of January, they talked often on the radio to their listeners about an organization called Abolition International out of Nashville, TN.
Abolition International was founded in 2005 by singer Natalie Grant when she was exposed to the plight of millions of women and children around the world oppressed by sex slavery.
WBGL worked very hard to try and raise $50,000 for Abolition International to help build a one-of-a-kind in the world facility in Nashville, TN to help girls and women who’ve been rescued.
On the legislative front: Indiana Senator John Waterman of Sullivan is working to expand legislation resources for human trafficking investigations.
His proposal has passed the state senate committee on Judiciary. Senate Bill 291 gives the Indiana Attorney General’s Office the same authority as other law enforcement agencies to collect and maintain data for human trafficking offenses.
The proposal also allows the attorney general to assist with investigation and prosecutions of these crimes. SB 291 now moves to the full Senate for further consideration.
People can receive help, report a tip, or request information or training by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or by sending a test to BeFree (233733).