This week O.U.R. hosted a multi-day aftercare training in Utah for professionals to further their education about trafficking and learning what to do to more effectively fight it. On Friday, a special panel was held, including Russell Smith from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Michelle Busch-Upwall from Utah Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Matt Pierce from Fourth Street Clinic, and Annie Johnson from Missio Dei’s Red Light Ministry. They provided specific insights into the needs of trafficking victims and what we can do to help, especially in Utah.
Social media is the #1 way predators are getting to our kids
Michelle Busch-Upwall, Education Specialist of the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force
Michelle speaks to schools and the community to help parents and their children be more aware of how to talk about internet safety. “Social media is the #1 way predators are getting to our kids!” she says. If youth are not taught how to safely use social media, they could unintentionally be handing predators the exact information they are looking for.
Almost all of the students Michelle speaks with have neglected to set privacy settings on their social media apps or phones. For example, 95% of students with Instagram had public accounts. On the first day of school, many posted a photo of their class schedules. This instantly gives any watching predator the student’s full name, the address of the school, and where they’ll be during the school day. Michelle asks parents to know the ins and outs of what kids are using and posting to the public. “Download it. Understand it. Have an open line of communication with your kids,” she says.
Many women are afraid of voluntarily walking into clinics for help
Matt Pierce, former member of Fourth Street Clinic’s Mobile Medical Outreach
During his time with Fourth Street Clinic, Matt would drive down the darkest alleys in downtown Salt Lake City to find people in the homeless community who needed medical services. His mobile medical outreach provided free dental and basic medical care right on the street, which in turn created a relationship of trust from many women who are caught in exploitation.
Bringing these resources and care directly to women in the streets may be the only care they get, as many women are afraid of voluntarily finding or walking into other clinics for help. Their lack of transportation or busy schedules (their traffickers often set daily quotas for them to meet) also may not permit them to easily seek medical help.
Matt stressed how much trauma plays a role in exploitation. On the streets, it is sometimes hard to know how these women became vulnerable and living in these situations. Because of this, he has found it important to develop relationships of trust with those he comes in contact with.
Matt’s mobile medical outreach has worked with Red Light’s Ministry to serve those in need in the North Temple / State Street neighborhood in Salt Lake City.
Want do you want? What do you want in return? Are you the police?
Annie Johnson, Director of Red Light Ministry of Missio Dei
The Red Light Ministry includes a small group of volunteers who walk the Red Light District in Salt Lake City, handing out free hygiene kits to women who are exploited on the street. Annie says that having this face-to-face contact helps women understand there are people who care and resources they can use. When the outreach began, many women were hesitant. Want do you want? What do you want in return? Are you the police? Now they recognize Annie and the volunteers and gladly accept the kits.
Although the Red Light Ministry is under the Missio Dei church, no proselyting takes place during the Outreach. Nothing is expected in return from the women, it is simply to help them know they are loved. It is hard for them to believe there are resources they can use to get help, but as these relationships grow, Annie and her group have hope they are helping many people slowly but surely.
The importance of the jury understanding the difference between victim and prostitute
Russell Smith, Director of SECURE Strike Force at Utah Attorney General’s Office
Russell Smith expressed his gratitude for these outreach services because it helps the relationship he develops with survivors, so he can help prosecute their traffickers. He shared some interesting realizations and sad realities he sees every day when he first meets with these women. Questions as simple as “Where would you like to sit?” or “What would you like to drink?” are very hard questions for a previously trafficked woman to answer, because she’s only known a life of someone making decisions for her. During a trial, Smith strives to help the jury understand the victim is a human being who was exploited, and not a “prostitute”. He asks, “How did that make you feel?” and “What did you want to be when you were growing up?” An increase in general awareness about the difference between someone being a victim of exploitation and a prostitute could significantly help the community members who will serve on juries for these trials.
What is most needed to help fight trafficking, specifically here in Utah today?
A Q&A session was held for the audience to ask follow-up questions. One participant asked, “What is most needed to help fight trafficking, specifically here in Utah today?”
– All panelists expressed the importance of education.
– Educate the public so jury members understand that a woman who is a witness in the prosecution of a trafficker has been victimized and is human and did not choose this life, and shouldn’t be seen as a “prostitute.”
– Education can help the community spread awareness and also emphasize the need for an official government aftercare facility specifically for survivors of trafficking here in Utah.
– Parents and children need to know the dangers of online exploitation that occurs on social media.
If you would like more information on the dangers of certain social media apps and tips on how to protect your children online, Michelle Busch-Upwall recommends going to commonsensemedia.org and agutah.gov, the official AG site where her blog posts and resources on the subject can be found.
YOU can be prepared
It is important to be aware of the signs of trafficking so that you can recognize dangerous situations. Take our free online training at ourrescue.org/training.