Child sex trafficking has been thrust into the spot light with #SaveOurChildren, but awareness started long before the hashtag was trending. Organizations work with survivors, spread awareness and information on where to get help and some even execute rescue missions to get people out of the trafficking industry.
The Center for Hope and Safety, formally know as Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Service, has been operating in Salem for the past 47 years. They work with victims and survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and human trafficking.
The hashtag movement has revolved around sex trafficking, particularly as it relates to pedophilia, but it is worth noting that people can also be trafficked to provide labor. Human trafficking is often considered modern day slavery.
“[Trafficking] can affect individuals of all ages but, generally it does start with children who are groomed as young as 10 to-12-years-old to be brought into a life for sex and labor trafficking. Unfortunately it’s a huge, huge issue,” said the center’s executive director, Jayne Downing.
The Oxford Dictionary defines grooming as, “the action by a pedophile of preparing a child for a meeting, especially via an Internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offense.” Popular apps with chat rooms include: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and online gaming services.
In regards to the trending hashtag, “#SaveOurChildren” Downing had doubts about its effectiveness.
“Especially if the person is posting or encouraging people to do things that could potentially be dangerous for them, and even the person they’re hoping to help,” Downing said, referring to posts about killing pedophiles and traffickers. She said sometimes gangs and drug affiliates can be involved, making the situation more dangerous.
Endorsing and encouraging violence goes against everything that the center stands for, Downing suggested that people educate themselves in depth about the issue and how it affects Marion County.
“People very often are looking for people to be walking up and down the street, [when they] think of trafficking. I think it’s important to say here in Marion County where we get it the most is in hotels,” Downing said.
Often times a trafficker will rent out a block of motel rooms and bring multiple individuals in, one after the other, through the duration of the reservation. The center is working with local motels to put information in the rooms so victims can find a place to get help.
“I think it’s important for our community to know, because a lot of times they think trafficking isn’t happening here,” Downing said.
Another issue with the well meaning hashtag, it creates the illusion that only children are trafficked, which is untrue. #SaveOurChildren takes an anti-pedophilia approach to the issue of human trafficking instead of an anti-trafficking stance on human trafficking.
In addition to educating and spreading accurate, helpful information, individuals wanting to help fight human trafficking can volunteer or donate to the center.
Volunteers have to complete 50 hours of training and they must be caring and empathetic individuals.
“We do have a limited amount of people that can come in and help us with sorting donations, but we have a volunteer coordinator and people can contact her about talking about different [ways] they can assist,” Downing said.
Not everyone can commit to 50 hours of training, but they can still help by donating to victims.
Survivors of human trafficking have had most of their decisions made for them since they met their trafficker, Downing said gift card donations are extremely helpful because not only does it provide for needs, it gives survivors the chance to pick out their own belongings.
“Very often they’re wanting to learn to shop for themselves for the first time and do their own laundry, those kinds of things. A gift card can be really helpful. That’s just one more step for them rebuilding their lives,” Downing said.
Yet another way to spread awareness of the issue of human trafficking (as well as sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking) is the Walk/Run that the center usually hosts in October, which is domestic violence awareness month. It has been canceled this year due to COVID-19.
In addition to the Center for Hope and Safety (hopeandsafety.org), Downing recommenced the Polaris project (polarisproject.org) and Safety Compass (safetycompass.org) to help provide information about the trafficking industry and relief for survivors and victims.
A quick Google search for anti-human trafficking efforts will bring up hundreds of results for various groups. Some are religious based, some are recovery focused, some are even rescue focused.
Instead of sharing #SaveOurChildren on social media, try posting resources like the national trafficking hotline 1 888-373-7888 or the 24 hour crisis line for the Center of Hope and Safety 503-399-7722.