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City of Topeka and Shawnee County declare war on human trafficking

The Shawnee County Commission, at their meeting on April 5, voted to approve a resolution “declaring war” on human trafficking. The City of Topeka’s governing body had voted 9-0 on April 3 to approve an identical proposal. The measure says Topeka’s city government “joins its counterparts in declaring war on businesses, systems and organizations that benefit from the industry of human trafficking” and “supports efforts to identify, address and eliminate situations that could lead to, or allow, trafficking to occur in order to protect and safeguard innocent individuals.”

Shortly after the county vote, city and county leaders shared further information about efforts to combat human trafficking in a packed news conference held at the Law Enforcement Center, 320 S. Kansas Ave.

The votes came after Topeka Rescue Mission executive director Barry Feaker encouraged them to approve the measures. Feaker has been a leader on the issue for some time.

“The City of Topeka is proud to help out all of our partners in putting a stop to human trafficking in our community. Together we can all make a difference and help end suffering in our community,” said Topeka City Manager Brent Trout.

“This joint effort is essential in helping out the men, women and children who are being abused and enslaved in human trafficking,” said Mayor Michelle De La Isla. “It is crucial that we all unite to help stop human trafficking so that people are able to live without fear of being recruited and solicited for labor or sexual servitude.”

The city and county are now partnering with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking in Topeka/Shawnee County and beyond by identifying, addressing and eliminating situations that lead to or allow human trafficking to occur. To reach this goal these agencies will provide education to help identify victims and perpetrators of human trafficking, establish ways for victims to safely seek justice and be provided with access to restorative and support services, and to prosecute those individuals, businesses and systems that conduct and benefit from human trafficking.

Feaker said Thursday’s “historic” event makes Topeka and Shawnee County the first city and county in the nation to do so, joining with similar state action taken previously.

 

THE HISTORY

This past February 1st marked the 70th anniversary of National Freedom Day, a day set aside in recognition of passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, putting an end to slavery in the United States. However, in reality, slavery does still exist and is thriving right here in our own community.

“Sex trafficking/slavery is a $99 billion business,” Topeka Rescue Mission Executive Director Barry Feaker noted, “and it’s second only to the drug business.”

In light of this truth, Feaker launched Freedom Now USA to assist states in eradicating human trafficking, and authored a proclamation, which Governor Sam Brownback signed January 26, stating Kansas would declare war and take action against this modern-day slavery. It was then sent to the Kansas House and Senate for approval.

Feaker compared the current struggle against sex trafficking to that of William Lloyd Garrison’s against slavery in the mid-1800s. Garrison was the voice of abolitionism, and he became the leader of the emerging anti-slavery movement. His publication, The Liberator, reached thousands of individuals worldwide.

Garrison lived long enough to see the Union come apart under the weight of slavery, and see Abraham Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. Thirty-four years after first publishing The Liberator, Garrison saw the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution go into effect, banning slavery forever.

A hundred and fifty-three years ago, Feaker said, the names of Lincoln and Garrison were at the forefront of the movement to abolish slavery.

“What will be the names,” Feaker wondered aloud, “in the year 2171 – 153 years from now – that will be associated with this movement to eradicate modern-day slavery – human trafficking?”

 

THE PROBLEM IS GROWING

In the last two years, the Topeka Rescue Mission Ministries division, now called Restore Hope, reached out in love, rescue and restoration to more than 130 victims of human trafficking who were residing in our own city.  According to statistics given by the Kansas attorney general’s office, there were 44 identified cases of human trafficking in 2012 in the state of Kansas. In 2015, three short years later, there were more than 400.

“Our nation needs a win against modern-day slavery and Kansas has a rich history of not compromising on this issue,” Feaker said.

Feaker announced details about the grassroots-level initiative called Freedom Now USA, the anti-human trafficking effort led by Topeka Rescue Mission.

“At the Topeka Rescue Mission, we have seen first-hand the tremendous impact this evil has on the lives of innocent children, and we will no longer stand for it. We expect our local effort to expand statewide and beyond as residents begin to realize that this is an issue that affects all of us, and we all have a role to play in stopping it.”

Freedom Now Coalition members will meet on a regular basis. By uniting, they hope to eradicate Human Trafficking from our city, county and eventually our nation, Feaker said.

Besides Feaker, the mayor and city manager, others involved in the initiative and attending the news conference were:

  • U.S. Marshal Ron Miller
  • Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
  • Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel
  • Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay
  • Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran
  • Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones
  • Shawnee County Commission chairman Kevin Cook
  • Topeka City Council members Michael Lesser, Mike Padilla and Sandra Clear

Clear, a recently retired teacher, acknowledged the topic of human trafficking might be “hard for some people to wrap their head around.”

She said she had gained a personal perspective on the topic through talking to one of her former students, a 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and trafficked.

Miller said that although young people won’t tell law enforcement officers if they are being trafficked for forced labor or sex, he intends to bring training about indicators that can help determine whether someone is a trafficking victim to public safety officers in the community later this year.

Lesser mentioned how it is necessary to also educate operators of convenience stores, restaurants, motels, etc., on how to recognize these indicators.

Padilla invited more churches and schools to also join the fight and become part of the team.

Over the past 13 years, Kansas has developed laws addressing the human trafficking issue, and they are now some of the most effective in the country, Schmidt said.

Kagay vowed to be “fully engaged and ready to fight.”

Meier-Hummel announced the creation of a new position within the DCF to specifically address the human trafficking of children in Kansas.

“We know there is a great need for collaboration on this important issue,” Meier-Hummel said. “This modern-day form of slavery is a reality in every corner of our state, and as we work to address the safety needs of child victims, we need a united effort to prevent human trafficking and develop a comprehensive response to the problem.”

The Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator position will be within DCF’s Prevention and Protection Services division, in Topeka. The position involves direct coordination with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and law enforcement.

“Human trafficking is a problem that goes unseen for most of us, yet it affects so many,” Governor Jeff Colyer said. “I appreciate Secretary Meier-Hummel’s commitment to tackling this problem, and I look forward to the positive impact it will have on our state.”

From March 2014 to December 2017, DCF helped 285 suspected child victims of human trafficking.

“We appreciate the participation from DCF on this monumental initiative,” Feaker said.

In addition to the new position, DCF also has staff members who sit on the State’s Human Trafficking Advisory Board. DCF also has staff on the Freedom Now board.

 

THE PROBLEM IS WIDESPREAD

“Commercial exploitation of children is a pandemic,” said Phillip Cosby, State Director, American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri. “We are witnessing an accelerating global cultural descent, where flesh is cheap and human slavery is back – flourishing and defined as human trafficking. To the human trafficker, humanity is a profitable reusable commodity for labor and commercial sexual exploitation.”

Sexual human trafficking has a wide scope of victims and customers. Most troubling to law enforcement and the general populace is the commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18, with the average victim being 13 years old. These child victims are from both international slave trade and domestic origins equally.  In the U.S., children run away, experience homeless or are thrown away at the rate of nearly 1,740,000 per year. Roughly 300,000 of those adolescents are involved in commercial sexual exploitation (prostitution and pornography) annually.

The growing scourge of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation if unabated will rapidly dismantle what is called in the law “Crimes Against the Public Morals” and “Community Standard,” Cosby said.

Those who suspect human trafficking involving a minor should call 1-800-922-5330.

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