THE WOMEN’S FUND OF GREATER BIRMINGHAM is leading local initiatives to
STOP SEX TRAFFICKING
Since the commercial sexual exploitation of children first came to the attention of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham in 2009, this organization has funded initiatives to increase children’s safety to stop this heinous crime. Human trafficking, or trafficking of persons, has become one of the leading criminal industries in the world, trailing only the weapon and drug trades. This industry alone grosses an estimated $9.5 billion annually through the exploitation of 27 million men, women, and children according to the U.S. State Department. Many recent reports present compelling evidence that human trafficking, while not a new phenomena, is becoming a worldwide pandemic. The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham has pioneered a study to determine how pervasive the crime is here in Central Alabama. The study, entitled INVISIBILITY, A Study of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Jefferson County, clearly identifies Jefferson County as having great risk for the presence of unidentified victims, with no adequate systems in place to react appropriately. The study revealed that it is important that community leaders, social service providers, law enforcement, and the community address the underlying conditions that drive both supply and demand.
In Alabama, a reported
85% of runaway children are approached to engage in the sex industry within 24 hours of being on the streets.
In early 2011, The Women’s Fund convened law enforcement and community experts to identify gaps in services and to increase programs in Jefferson County that identify and protect victims and actively prosecute offenders. Working with U. S. Attorney Joyce Vance’s office, Brandon Falls, Jefferson County DA, and DHR, The Women’s Fund convened officials likely to be the first to respond to human trafficking incidents and trained them to identify and assist victims. First responders were also taught essential information needed to prosecute the perpetrator. Thanks in large part to the efforts of The Women’s Fund, The Greater Birmingham Stakeholder Committee against the Sexual Exploitation of Children was formed in late 2011 to develop trainings for first responders, identify model programs in other states to replicate in Alabama, and highlight gaps in services here in Alabama. This committee is comprised of the following: Alabama Attorney General’s Office Alabama Department of Human Resources Birmingham Police Department Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services Children’s Aid Society Cooper Green Mercy Hospital Cooperative Community Response Crisis Center Family Connection Federal Bureau of Investigation Gateway Homeland Security Investigations Hoover Police Department Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office Jefferson County Family Court Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office The WellHouse The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Alabama UAB Hospital Emergency Department YWCA
National Human Trafficking Hotline
A national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the United States
24 hours a day, 7 days a week every day of the year
STOP SEX TRAFFICKING In 2012 The Women’s Fund first provided financial resources to train medical staff at Children’s Hospital and UAB Medical Center, exploring the many faces of victimization. The Women’s Fund later convened more than 50 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials who learned (from federal officials with Michigan Homeland Security) how to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking. Michigan service providers shared their methodology and experiences, and recommended specific resources to assist victims of human trafficking. The Women’s Fund is convening a workshop for over 160 social workers, medical workers and law enforcement agents on September 21, 2012. This halfday workshop will be facilitated by Polaris Project, a 10-year-old national program in Washington, D. C., committed to combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery, and to strengthening the antitrafficking movement through a comprehensive approach. This half-day session will explore current forms of human trafficking and effective programs to assess and assist victims. Victims of human trafficking in Alabama can now find help and assure the crime is prosecuted: • • • •
Victims of human trafficking may bring civil actions (AL Code 13A-6-157). Human trafficking of minors or adults is now a felony (AL Code 13A-6-152 and 13A6-153). A person who commits human trafficking must forfeit all assets acquired from the crime (AL Code 13A-6-156). The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is required by law to be posted in numerous business establishments across the state. Immigrant victims of trafficking may be provided additional help through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
THE WOMEN’S FUND OF
Labels and Language Cloud the Issue Often sex trafficking of minors is described as an “invisible problem,” conjuring images of smuggled children and young adults crossing state lines. Indeed, this is a reality experienced nationally by youth of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. Still, victims can be overlooked by police or school officials because of the labels and language used to describe victims. Labels can create an additional layer of invisibility. For example, a local media report recently cited underage girls as “prostitutes,” even though an underage person cannot be a consensual party to sex. By calling exploited minors “prostitutes,” instances of commercial sexual exploitation of youth can become buried in misapplied labels that, if left unchallenged, can result in an exploited minor being held in juvenile detention rather than in the expert care of a victim service provider. Further, the public may go on believing that sex trafficking does not exist, but rather that there is a growing population of youth that is somehow “oversexed,” wearing suggestive clothing, and making bad decisions. In truth, exploited youth need specific kinds of help and support to help them heal from this brutal exploitation.
The Women’s Fund’s mission is to inspire women to use their philanthropic power to create positive social change for women and girls.
GREATER BIRM INGHAM
Published on Oct 2, 2012