North Texas Daily

Panel aimed to educate, spread awareness about sex trafficking held in Argyle

Panel aimed to educate, spread awareness about sex trafficking held in Argyle

Panel aimed to educate, spread awareness about sex trafficking held in Argyle
June 21
18:55 2019

Dallas-Fort Worth residents gathered Thursday evening at Argyle’s Liberty Christian School for a sex trafficking awareness event hosted by Refuge for Women of North Texas, a faith-based residential program for sex trafficking victims.

A six-member panel of experts on sexual exploitation, including members of law enforcement and a trafficking survivor, addressed questions from the moderator and audience in the two-hour discussion aimed at educating the community about sexual exploitation.

Sandy Storm, human trafficking survivor and author of “Becoming Navi”, talks about empathy and staying connected with community at the Sex Trafficking Q&A event hosted by Refuge for Women North Texas at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas on June 20, 2019. Photo by Bertha Smith.

After an opening prayer, panelists addressed what they said are widespread misconceptions about trafficking being a strictly urban problem.

“I think the biggest challenge that we run into is that lack of public knowledge where people think ‘well, it doesn’t happen here,’” said John Kochan, a special agent in Homeland Security’s sex trafficking unit.

Leslie Haight, a 22-year-old Denton resident, said she was surprised to learn that trafficking is a threat to the DFW community.

“I didn’t know that it was in Denton [or] that sex trafficking was as common as it is,” Haight said. “I travel a lot so in China that’s something that’s definitely in that area, but I didn’t think that locally, it was as big of a deal.”

Experts said another common misconception is that those being bought and sold are willing participants rather than victims of exploitation.

“People think they want to be there and they’re doing it by choice,” said Christine Manos, program director at Refuge for Women North Texas and an organizer of the event. “Ninety-three percent of women that are involved in trafficking want to get out, but they don’t see a way out. Because of the grooming process that happens with them, they don’t think they have any other options.”

Panelists also discussed the trauma victims of exploitation face, as well as the role social media plays in recruiting victims and how to recognize signs of trafficking in the community.

“These guys who are trafficking kids are masters at being able to identify and exploit vulnerabilities,” Kochan said. “These guys are constantly surfing Facebook, Instagram and all of these crazy social media applications looking for victims.”

Panelists said that common barriers to women leaving the commercial sex industry include a lack of marketable skills and fear of an inability to function in society.

“A lot of them don’t have a high school education and they’ve never worked in a normal job,” Manos said.

“I had a really hard time trusting men,” author and trafficking survivor Sandy Storm said. “Ninety-nine percent of sex buyers are men, so from age six to 26 every time I had an encounter with somebody against my will or was coerced into it, it reiterated that’s all men wanted from me. It was really hard to grow healthy relationships.”

Audience member Craig Cramer asks survivor Sandy Storm a question about how men can create a positive role of change to prevent human trafficking at the Sex Trafficking Q&A event hosted by Refuge for Women North Texas at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas on June 20, 2019. Photo by Bertha Smith.

Craig Cramer, a 60-year-old Ponder resident who has been involved in the cause for eight years, said he has experienced the additional challenges being a male advocate in the fight against trafficking present.

“I’ve filled out apps for volunteers and didn’t get a response,” Cramer said. “You can’t work with the girls, so where do men go who want to help? That’s kind of been my dilemma.”

Speakers agreed that raising awareness of the relationship between pornography and exploitation is a crucial first step in ending the demand.

“I think the best thing to do is to understand another big component of sex trafficking is the porn industry,” Manos said. “Every single one of my residents started out in pornography of one form or another.”

While panelists encouraged vigilance, they said the only certain way to end sexual exploitation is to dissolve the market for commercialized sex.

“Really what I see the future of the justice movement being is that we have to end the demand,” Storm said. “It’s a demand-driven industry and we have to work in that way to really make a difference.”

Victims needing immediate assistance can reach out to Valiant Hearts Crisis Response Center at (855) 524-3747.

Featured Image: Dennis Ozment, a panel speaker from C7 Human Trafficking Coalition, addresses unknown facts that involve human trafficking at the Sex Trafficking Q&A event hosted by Refuge for Women North Texas at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas on June 20, 2019. Other members of the discussion panel represented Collin County Human Trafficking Task Force, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Valiant Hearts. Photo by Bertha Smith.

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Amber Gaudet

Amber Gaudet

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