The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

There’s a reason

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[tabs active=”5″] [tab title=”Escaping the system”] [heading size=”20″]Trafficking victim finds voice, shares story[/heading]
Art by Maddy Mueller
Art by Maddy Mueller
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t 14 years old, when most kids are just hitting puberty, sharing secrets around the lunch table and practicing for their first piano recital, Misty Losinger was selling her body. She could make up to $2500 a night servicing men who only wanted her for sex. Oftentimes working 18 hours straight, there were times when she just barely reached the quota of her trafficker. Losinger, who is now 34, was a victim of the sex trade.
Losinger moved across several states from buyer to buyer after first being trafficked out of a strip club in Portland, Ore. Because she was young and attractive, she was sold easily and at a high price. This modern-day form of slavery became Losinger’s way of life and where she remained captive for 14 years becoming more and more psychologically marred and physically persecuted. Her life before running away was far from perfect and her entrance into this way of living seemed like the better option, however, she was not prepared for what she was going to endure.
“I think emotionally in the very beginning it’s [difficult] letting people touch you and do things to you that you’ve never experienced before,” Losinger said. “It’s hard to close your eyes and not think about it and just think about the money you’re going to get and be able to give to your trafficker because you know that’s going to make him happy, which is going to make your day better.”
Pleasing her boss was the only way to avoid the persistent beatings that inflicted Losinger with feelings of insignificance and lack of self-esteem. Not being punished by her perpetrator was the only way she knew she had done something of worth and had made enough money to be valuable. Her trafficker showed her love, but not true love out of his heart. His love was rooted in greed and mercilessness.
“Emotionally, not being able to feel loved, or feeling like love is getting beaten down and love is ‘here I made three thousand tonight so I’m going to get a pat on the head and things are going to be OK,’” Losinger said. “The beatings that they do every day [put] the most emotional strain on you, is feeling like you’re never good enough. You’re never going to be good enough, and that’s your life.”
The assaults got progressively more heinous for Losinger, and eventually law enforcement became involved. She went into custody where she met an officer who offered her his assistance and compassion. After talking with an officer, she found Saving Grace, a shelter in Bend, Ore. which protected her in her time of need. She made it out of the system, but was far from her former self.
“I’ve got severe back damage, I’ve had three back surgeries, and I’m getting ready to have another one … I’ve got severe PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] that’s never going to go away. I have panic attacks at least once a week,” Losinger said. “I’m kind of still enclosed, it took me awhile to get out of my room and it took me awhile to get outside. Sometimes I get scared when I walk outside because I feel like everybody’s watching me or looking at me, or people are talking about me, or somebody’s going to come find me and hurt me and that’s something that’s never going to go away. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with the emotional and physical damage for the rest of my life. My back will never be OK. My hands, I’ve got arthritis in both my wrists. I don’t wear high heels. I quit wearing high heels four years ago because they caused a lot of damage to my spine. It’s still something that I’m going to have to live with and to learn how to take care of myself differently.”
Losinger’s years in the sex trade not only left her physically maimed, but also emotionally scarred. Though she was glad to be starting a new life, she couldn’t completely put her past behind her. Since her perpetrator was in custody, she knew a court case was bound to ensue. Yet approaching the bench and testifying in front of the man who had exploited her for years was no easy feat.
“It was one of the scariest things I’ve had to do in my whole entire life. That was the first time I’d faced him in four and a half years and I was scared to death and I had to do a lot of breathing exercises,” Losinger said. “Seeing the pictures, hearing the phone conversations, phone conversations that he made in jail, which is why the FBI came and looked for me so fast was because he was in jail talking to somebody else saying that ‘We need to do something about Misty Losinger. We need to make her disappear.’ I had no idea that any of this was going on.”
Losinger’s case was unique because she remained persistent to finalize the case, even though it took four years to gather enough evidence to create a justifiable trial. She testified for over five hours, telling her side of the story, the story that her trafficker didn’t want exposed. She didn’t do it for personal gain alone; she made herself vulnerable in order to bring justice to the many girls she was trafficked with as well: girls who had endured the same exploitation, yet didn’t make it to finding a new life the way she had.
“So during trial we actually got to hear [another girl] speak … I used to work with her a lot, prostitution-wise. We used to cover each other’s bruises with makeup before we’d go out on the job to work. But she had testified in front of the grand jury before she committed suicide, and we got to hear her. There were actually three other girls: one of them nobody could find, one of the girls overdosed and another girl was killed,” Losinger said. “A lot of girls don’t make it that far [in the prosecution]; they run. They go back because they feel like that’s all that they know. They feel like that’s all that they’re going to be there for, that’s all that they feel like that’s the safest place for them to go back to a place where somebody beats them every day, that that’s their life and that that’s OK.”
Returning to a life of forced physical abuse was not an option for Losinger. She had turned to trafficking years ago out of desperation, but now she had found her voice. For years her independence was exchanged for the little compensation she received from the so-called love of the men with whom she slept. And after 14 years of drug abuse, physical exploitation and suffering severe emotional damage, escaping her trafficker was only the first step to a new life.
“Believe it or not, after four years I should have felt freedom a long time ago when I got away, but hearing the verdict guilty of all charges, in the courtroom after 16 days there, five and a half hours on the stand, I felt free,” Losinger said. “I felt freedom. I felt like it’s going to be OK. I felt like he could never hurt anybody else. I felt like, he can’t get me anymore. There’s nothing he can do to hurt me anymore. There’s nothing he can say to hurt me anymore. I definitely felt free, uplifted.”
Losinger had lived a life of injustice, coerced to give away something that was rightfully hers: her body. Men took advantage of her sexuality day in and day out, and she was so psychologically exhausted that she felt worthiness solely by the amount of money she earned from her acts.
Now Losinger receives encouragement on a daily basis by friends; friendship is something she never experienced before.
“It’s the feeling of being wanted and needed for something other than being trafficked. Nobody wants to touch my body. Nobody wants to hit me. Nobody wants anything from me. The only thing that people want that are involved in my life … is just my friendship,” Losinger said. “It’s different. It’s brand new to me … because I’ve never had a friend. I’ve never had somebody who just wanted to sit down and have coffee with me and not anything else. I’ve never had a man look at me like I’m a human being instead of looking at me for what he could get from me or how much he could beat me or what he can touch on my body.”
During the past couple months, Losinger has had the opportunity to take a writing class where she has fallen in love with the written word. She hopes that one day she will be able to tell her story in the form of a book and encourage other girls who may feel like the only way to feel acceptance is through exploiting their bodies.
“I want to be able to make a difference. There’s got to be a reason I’m still here. I’ve been in comas. I’ve been beat. I’ve had guns held to my head. I’ve been stabbed,” Losinger said. “I’ve been through so much in 14 years, physical and mental abuse. There’s got to be a reason I’m still here, and it’s definitely a reason for me to tell my story and spread my knowledge so that other people know. And that’s what I want to do, and I’m going to do it.”
By Brittany Cornelison
[/tab] [tab title=”International”] [heading size=”20″]International healing of exploited children[/heading] [dropcap]T[/dropcap]hough many believe slavery vanished in the 1800s, the “modern-day” form of slavery, human trafficking, is a $32 million industry targeting innumerable victims each year, most of whom are teenagers. Whether that be through sex trafficking or forced labor, this modern-day version of bondage remains, as 27 million people are still in slavery today.
Victims from a wide range of age groups are bought, sold and pressured against their will to participate in sexual activity with strangers anywhere from 20 to 48 times a day, according to Polaris Project. These victims, 66 percent of whom are girls with an average age of 13, are morally, physically and psychologically marred. The girls are raped, drugged and haggled all across the United States as well as overseas.
“They’re scared to death. They don’t know they’ve actually been rescued for months. They just know they’ve been taken somewhere different,” Angela Foster, founder of Rapha House said. “It does help that there are other girls there that have been through the same thing, and they warm up to the girls first. They’re fearful. They’re angry because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them. They don’t know if their parents know where they are. They don’t know that they’ve actually been rescued; they just know they’ve been moved, so it does take a bit.”
Rapha House, in Joplin, Mo., is a non-profit organization that constructed a safehouse in Cambodia for young girls who fell victim to this vicious human trafficking cycle. Outside organizations, which are involved in the intrusive rescue of these abused girls, bring them to Rapha House and the detoxing process begins.
Infographic by Maddy Mueller
Infographic by Maddy Mueller
“We have a holistic approach, meaning that we treat mind, body and spirit. We counsel with them. The very first thing we do, though, is we take care of their physical needs. You can only imagine if they’ve come from a brothel for even a year what that would look like physically. Some of these girls have never had their own toothbrush, some of them have never owned their own clothes, so we provide for their physical needs first. We give them a checkup, dental and physical, and if there are any issues that need to be taken care of, we do that immediately,” Foster said. “Then we work on their mind with their counseling … we individualize for every girl that comes across the threshold of Rapha House.”
According to raphahouse.org, 66 percent of sex trafficking victims are women. Rapha House works to take in as many girls as they can hold; however, the number of girls forced into prostitution, both on a domestic and international level, is innumerable and increasing.
Chong Kim, a Korean-born American, is an example of someone who ended up in domestic sex trafficking system at a young age. Recruited unwillingly by her boyfriend at 19, Kim was chained in the basement of an abandoned warehouse and raped repeatedly. Once joined with the rest of the girls, she was subjected to all sorts of horrific behavior. She said traffickers would gather their victims, line them up and assign them to their nightly duties. It could take 15 girls to fulfill the demand of the clients seeking the girls’ sex services. The customers would go from girl to girl, raping them and leaving them lying alone and used. Chong said she and the girls with her would be required to shower and prepare themselves for their next clients. Each night they spent with as many as 25 men. Any attempt to fight back resulted in a severe beating, and they were routinely injected forcefully with heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.
“I turned into a puppet. I got tired of fighting back,” Chong told investik8.wordpress.com, a freelance investigative journalism website.
This lifestyle isn’t one escaped easily, perpetrators have gone as far to drug victims in order to prevent them from escaping, according to soroptimist.org, a global womens volunteer organization. They don’t leave this system and become cleansed immediately either. Rapha House’s mission is to combat the aftermath of sexual persecution and trauma in order to instill a new, healthy mindset in these girls, Foster said. Their hope is that these girls begin to feel worthy of love.
“Once we’ve done counseling with her, a lot of these girls who come to us … don’t even know their own language, so we will teach them their native language, and we use the Bible to teach them English. Now we do not force our girls to learn about Jesus, but it is a natural outcome [from using the Bible as a text]. If you’re teaching them English, then they will end up having questions about Scripture and about who this Jesus is because we want them to know that Jesus is the reason that they were created and the reason that they have hope for the future, that he’s the only reason they’re valuable,” Foster said. “We value them because, in most of the Southeastern countries … children and women are not valued, and so we teach them that Jesus loves them because they were a creation of them, and they have hope for the future.”
Although many of the girls convert to Christianity, Foster said the organization’s main purpose is not religious transformation. She said the goal is for the girls to become whole again after the devastating things they have been through. While most normal eight-year-olds would spend their days in school learning, on the playground playing or spending time with their loving families, these girls have lived a life of darkness and abuse.
Forced prostitution is more prevalent than the world may know. According to Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking, sex trafficking affects 161 countries, there have been 9,298 new cases reported in the last five years and one million children experience exploitation by the global commercial sex trade. Rapha House focuses on young girls, in order to rescue them from a system that they may have otherwise not escaped themselves because it may be their only means of survival, according to psychologytoday.com.
“It is abominable, not that it’s not for anyone over 18, but most children cannot take care for themselves,” Foster said. “Our youngest came to us at four. It’s hard to imagine doing anything like that to a four-year-old. But, it happens, and that’s why we chose to focus on children because children don’t typically have a voice.”
In order to provide for the needs of these girls, Rapha House accepts donations and welcomes financial help of fundraisers from supporters. Foster said she had a group of 22 private school National Honor Society members raise $1,300.
“There are a lot of things that teenagers can do. We’ve had kids put on 5Ks; we’ve had kids do concerts. It’s crazy,” Foster said. “If you give teenagers ownership of something, they will go with it. They really will.”
Aside from the help from supporters, Rapha House also raises money by selling products the girls make. The ultimate purpose of having these girls live in the Rapha House is to have them grow up in the environment, eventually reintegrating them into society, Foster said. Since they have experienced a life of despair and abnormal reality, they must be re-taught the normal and acceptable ways of life. One way they do this is by teaching practical life skills such as sewing. Rapha House is widely known for their selling of handmade silk scarves, bracelets and other various fashion items made by their girls at various conferences, events and on their website.
“You’ve got these young girls that now, when they leave our doors, will need something to do. We brought in sewing instructors, and that’s the first vocational training program we started, in sewing. That program’s been going for about six years, but in the last two years [we’ve seen] just phenomenal growth in how they manage and the training they’ve received,” Foster said. “It is a true reintegration program; it has multi-layers … we give them life-skills courses, so you know they’ll know how to budget. They’ll know how to live on their own or contribute back to their family via rent and then just the life skills they’ve learned while they’re there.”
Though monetary funds are always appreciated, Rapha House also takes groups of people who are willing to travel with them to their safe houses to help out physically. Since the opening of Rapha House 10 years ago, mission trips have gone out twice a year to Cambodia.
Jamie Trotter, now a junior at Ozark Christian College, which is also in Joplin, Mo., has been to Cambodia a total of seven times since she was in middle school, including two trips to Rapha House. Her family was originally going to move to this Southeastern Asian country; however, her father was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor, keeping them here in the States. Months later when her father passed away, they donated all the money from the memorial to Rapha House.
On her first visit, Trotter was in sixth grade and didn’t quite understand what was going on. She thought it was just a house for girls. However, as she grew up, she began to dig deeper and learn about the girls and what they had been through, her mindset changed and she developed a new love for these broken girls.
“I was blown away the first time I heard one of the girls stories. I didn’t even know that stuff existed. When I went, we just played with the girls and loved on them,” Trotter said. “Being aware of it while walking around the streets of Cambodia, it’s heartbreaking. It’s happening everywhere I walk. I am very drawn to this mission of sex trafficking because I have talked with the girls and I have seen the pain in their eyes. Knowing that I am free and a girl is imprisoned in a brothel is sickening but that’s what keeps me geared toward this mission, knowing I can give a girl hope.”
The time she spent in Rapha House was life-changing, Trotter said. Through this experience she has gained a passion for missions, traveling around the world and helping people in situations such as those of Southeast Asia. She has also had to familiarize herself with the customs of this foreign country, which proved to be somewhat challenging.
“I remember one thing that was always so hard for me was not smiling at men on the street. It was considered flirting and told the men that you were interested,” Trotter said. “The organization keeps the girls’ information pretty confidential now. As the organization has grown they have had to watch how they promote Rapha. For pictures, each girl has her eyes covered by a word like redeemed, loved, worthy, etc. This is so important because these girls are at such a vulnerable state that they can be taken advantage of so easily. Men can still bribe them to make them go back into the slavery.”
Confidentiality is vital for this organization because of the culture that surrounds them. It is important for the safety of the rescued girls, Foster said. Since they’ve escaped a life of exploitation, a big issue is making sure that the girls aren’t sucked back into the system of sex trafficking. Rapha House no longer participates in the rescuing process of the trafficked girls, but they do take part in the justice process. Every perpetrator is challenged. Safety is the No. 1 priority for the Rapha House girls, always.
“We don’t always win, but we will always go to court to try and put their perpetrators in prison,” Foster said. “We’ve actually thrown parents in prison because if they’re the ones that are trafficking them and we know it’s not safe for them to go back, then we’ll do our best to keep them safe, either with us or we’ll find homes with other people.”
Foster said of the girls brought to the safe house after experiencing a life of sexual persecution, 95 percent do not return to their former lifestyle: no more being used against their will, no more being bought and sold and no more slavery.
“I would say sex trafficking is a cause I am interested in pursuing. These girls are helpless. But so many people want to work with girls and Rapha house but people forget that this whole messed up situation starts with the fathers selling their little girls off to a stranger because they need money to eat,” Trotter said. “If Cambodia can raise boys into men and men into protectors, then sex trafficking will be no more. I sure hope I go back. My brother, his wife and four children live there and are church planting. If it is God’s calling, then yes, I’ll be back.”
But God didn’t only call Trotter. Students at a college in Florida felt the same heart-tugging. A high school church youth group of students worked together and were able to raise support and money to open up a safe house in Haiti as well. They realized that along with the widespread persecution in Southeast Asia, this modern slavery happens all over the world. According to the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, since the earthquake that happened in Haiti in 2010, more than 7,000 young boys and girls have fallen prey to smuggling out of their homeland to the Dominican Republic for the sake of trafficking in order to profit from the poverty that is taking place in Haiti.
“Two-hundred and fifty thousand [children] will be trafficked just this year, between the ages of eight and 12. We were approached by Florida Christian College and they said, ‘We really want you to go to Haiti, there’s a severe problem of trafficking young girls in Haiti.’ And we said, ‘ You know, if you can find 20 churches to support us for five years, at x number of dollars per month, we’ll consider doing that,’” Foster said. “Within a year, they had 14 churches … so we have a lot of church support and will have continued support with those people when we open in Haiti.”
The organization has already sent their directors off to Haiti in order to get the safe house ready for potential girls to come. According to Foster, this house is planned to open in December of this year.
Discovering a safe house was not Kim’s way out of the sex trafficking life. After two years in the system of prostitution, Kim escaped, but it wasn’t easy. Kim had learned the system and, in her situation, the only way out was to work her way to the top. She went from being trafficked to gaining the trust of the traffickers and convincing them that she wanted to become like them: a trafficker herself. Once this alliance was made, Kim was able to escape.
As much progress is being made to combat this sexual assault that Kim fell prey to, sex trafficking is still prevalent all over the globe. But, organizations such as Rapha House are making a true effort for change.
By Brittany Cornelison
[/tab] [tab title=”National”] [heading size=”18″]Truckers Against Trafficking: Empowering truck drivers to report crime[/heading] [dropcap]I[/dropcap]n 2009, Lyn Thompson and her four daughters initiated a move that would change their lives. For the previous two years they’d committed themselves to a ministry of fighting injustice, specifically human trafficking. However, a human trafficking awareness conference challenged them to help educate employees at truck stops, where human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, occurs frequently because of the isolated location and large number of employees.
Hustlers oftentimes use truckers as a way to move their girls from one location to another. According to truckinfo.net, there are an estimated 15.5 million semi-trucks in operation in the United States today. Ease of accessibility and number of miles covered make truckers a reasonable avenue for sex trafficking.
However, Thompson makes it known that truckers aren’t always to blame for this act, but that the drivers can be great lookouts in observing acts of forced prostitution and alerting authorities. Thompson and her daughters made a move to educate truckers about their cause to make a difference, and in 2009, Truckers Against Trafficking was born. This organization aims to “educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and travel plaza industry to combat domestic sex trafficking,” according to the TAT website.
“We help [truckers] understand that human trafficking is taking place at many of the places and locations they travel to, and that if they understand what it looks like and can begin to recognize it when they see it happening, they can play a critical role in stopping it,” Thompson said in an email interview. “We give them the understanding of the crime and those involved in it (both perpetrator and victim), the tools to use to combat it and the solutions to employ to engage law enforcement for successful perpetrator apprehension and victim rescue. We help them see the critical role they can have in this fight … because, often, it’s on their doorstep.”
Truckers are in a position most aren’t. They can drive up to 11 hours each day, according to thetruckersreport.com. Driving for this amount of time, covering more than 700 miles a day and making many stops along the way allows them to possibly see acts of trafficking that would go unseen otherwise.
“In reality [truckers are] the eyes and ears of America’s highways; they’re out there daily, all over the United States in places the five of us wouldn’t ever be able to be regularly and consistently,” Thompson said. “I figured if they knew that many of the women, boys and girls they were probably seeing being prostituted at truck stops, travel plazas, rest areas and restaurants and hotels were really trafficking victims — enslaved and being forced to do what they were doing — that they would be more than happy and ready to help, and with that many of them involved, we could really make a difference.”
One thing that TAT works to educate their truckers in is the vital role drivers play in stopping this heinous crime.
“Members of the trucking industry are in a unique place to make the call and save a life, because they are often in locations frequented by traffickers trying to sell their victims,” Thompson said. “We want members of the trucking industry to not only tell others about human trafficking, but we want them to be able to recognize it, when they see it happening in front of them, and then make the call to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center [the national HT hotline] so law enforcement can be engaged to intervene.”
By Brittany Cornelison
[/tab] [tab title=”State”] [heading size=”14″]Closing broken doors: Breaking free of the past, discovering a life renewed[/heading]
Art by Maddy Mueller
Art by Maddy Mueller
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]uman trafficking is not only an international issue. Countless acts of slavery happen here in the United States. According to Polaris Project, the number of victims to this modern-day slavery is largely unknown; however, an estimated 100,000 U.S. minors are at risk of being sucked into the commercial sex trade.
Polaris Project set up a national, toll-free hotline that aims to reach out to those in need of information about human trafficking and to bring in tips about possible acts of this crime via email, online submissions, phone call or SMS text messaging.
In 2013, this hotline picked up 35,889 signals in these various forms. 3,983 calls were referenced for unique potential victims.
In 2006, a student-led anti-human trafficking organization at the University of Missouri-Columbia realized the severity of trafficking and decided to take a stand. This campus organization, Stop Traffic, worked to educate, reach out and raise consciousness to the human trafficking cause; however, they didn’t want to stop at campus level with such a widespread issue.
“Leadership of the Stop Traffic group of that time had a vision for a community-based organization. They knew that there was a need locally, you know, they were educating us in the fact that it was a Missouri issue, a local issue, and they invited people who were attending from the area to meet together during a conference so we did that and then agreed on a time to meet after and continued meeting and decided that yes we did want to create a local organization,” Nanette Ward, co-chair of Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition said. “We continued meeting and developed a name and founding board members and became incorporated into the state and eventually got a 501(c)3 status and so that’s really how it started, through the student organization … helping us understand that there was a need for a local group to continue this work within this community, not just on campus.”
This once college-based outreach grew into a local organization, reaching out to all of central Missouri. This organization is called Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (CMSHTC) and works with local and federal law enforcement, social-service providers, churches, students, educators and many others to stop the continuation of human trafficking since its foundation in 2008.
“We proudly tell that story over and over that we give that credit to the leadership of the student organization of that time,” Ward said. “They had a vision from the beginning and they were very intentional about encouraging people who were there and making a point of getting us together to communicate, to make a plan, to talk to each other after the conference, so we are very happy to give due credit to the vision and the leadership of the organization at that time.”
In addition to raising awareness, CMSHTC is involved in the legal aspect of human trafficking cases, in working to bring perpetrators to justice. Just to put things in perspective, it is important to realize this crime happens right here in Columbia, according to Ward. The most recent local arrest occurred in December 2013. A Columbia man was proven guilty of sex trafficking after being charged 16 times, three times specifically related to sexual assaults. Also, in May 2013, another local man, who used local motels to traffic adult women and at least one minor, was brought to justice.
During the past four years, Ward worked closely on a case with a woman who was trafficked in Oregon before she moved to Missouri to get away from her old lifestyle. This woman, Misty Losinger, brought her case to attention in 2009. In March 2014, the case received its federal court date. Losinger’s case took four years, Ward said, and this is just an example of how long it can take to do a thorough investigation and create a platform for a trial.
“Sometimes there isn’t a trial and the trafficker will accept a plea, but in her case, the trafficker refused,” Ward said. “Misty was on the stand willing and able to testify. Other victims have fallen by the wayside. This is really unusual to have a victim in a position, four years after the fact, to actually go to trial and testify. Usually, things happen, like victims go back to the life [of prostitution], or they just can’t handle the idea of a case dragging on this long and they go to some other state and their contact is lost or something bad happens to them … Misty was truly not the norm and so everyone was really very excited, very pleased, very impressed that she was able and willing and that she did so well on the witness stand because it can be a really intimidating experience and she was on the witness stand for five hours.”
Her efforts were well worth it, because in the end, her perpetrator received a guilty verdict. Because she stood strong behind her case, this criminal is now off the streets and prevented from seeking out other victims. The outcome of this case would not have come in the same form as it did without the continual support of CMSHTC; the Coalition worked in close partnership with Losinger throughout the investigation, aiding her emotionally, but also financially.
“The Coalition has been supporting Misty since she lost a job last fall. We have supported her with bills and with some emergency dental work, with making sure that she has been able to connect with opportunities for support, social support, emotional support there in her community, and just remained a constant connection for her even though we physically have not been where she is,” Ward said. “Misty had some unmet needs and while she was working an hourly job at a gas station, that she had very little income and she has a service dog and wasn’t having enough money to buy her dog food … we’ve been providing her with funds to help her reach some basic costs and … then when she lost her job, we became a lot more involved with her financially … I’m really pleased that the coalition has been able to play a part in her coming this far. She is so excited now about helping other people, having her story be a part of her way of empowering other people. She is going to get a copy of the transcript of the trial and she’s already thinking about how she’s going to be able to use that actual transcript for her own book, as a way to help other people and tell her story.”
Losinger will fly out to Oregon one more time in a couple months in order to give her victim statement in court. It is efforts such as Losinger’s that get the word out about sex trafficking more quickly than any other outlet. It is her personal account and emotional tie that will pull on souls and intrigue passions towards spreading awareness. Churches, schools and individual efforts take responsibility and bring about consciousness for the organization through 5Ks, fundraisers and other events.
Back in February 2013, the Coalition unveiled one of their largest projects: a billboard along I-70. The Lemar Advertising Company partnered with CMSHTC and offered to pay the billboard’s monthly fee of $500 for as long as the billboard remains up and unwanted by other buying companies. This was a huge donation for the organization, Ward said, and all the Coalition needed to do was raise the $1,500 needed for production.
“We saw examples of other billboards in the country, and we knew that could be a very powerful message. We knew that being along the I-70 corridor that there was a lot of trafficking that goes on in and out of our state, people being brought in, people being trafficked across the state, in and out of the state, at truck stops and we knew that it was a significant highway where our message could be seen,” Ward said. “We also knew that if we had our logo, the name of our organization being Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, that that alone would be a statement. It would be sort of a wake-up call to people to realize that there is actually a need for something in central Missouri. People often think of trafficking going on internationally, but to see a name ‘Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition,’ that would raise an awareness in some way that there was something going on and a need for something to be going on right in central Missouri.”
This billboard also contains the number for the national sex trafficking hotline, encouraging victims to call and potential threats to be reported. So far, this physical message for awareness has been greatly influential. In addition, Lemar extended their kindness of paying monthly bills for as many billboards as the Coalition wants, as long as they can pay the production fee. This means the organization can continue to raise funds to put up more billboards in other locations.
Another thing that CMSHTC worked to accomplish is increasing federal awareness of the cause. It’s one thing to inform the general population, but getting a hold of representatives and encouraging them to get the message out has a huge impact, Ward said. The Coalition has been in close contact with Chris Kelly, District 24’s representative in Missouri’s General Assembly, on figuring out a way to draw people’s attention to sex trafficking.
“Chris Kelly managed to get $100,000 put into the budget for law enforcement training across the state,” Ward said. “Our law enforcement, that are first responders out there coming across victims, responding to calls [need to have] awareness to see that there are people out on the streets that are victims and not criminals.”
This is a giant step in order to educate the police community about specific ways to abolish this issue within their job. At the beginning of this semester, RBHS’s Global Issues club decided to focus on raising awareness of the prevalence of human trafficking.
Partnering with CMSHTC is, “primarily to get the club informed about local outreach. We’re going to try and have Nanette come and speak to the club and maybe brainstorm with her about how we can get involved in the community with human trafficking,” Global Issues co-president senior Trisha Chaudhary said. “I think it’s pretty easy to get excited about trying to combat human trafficking, especially once we found out that it also happens in Mid-Missouri and Columbia, too. I think people are really shocked and I think they really want to help as much as they can. There was a big discussion when we were figuring out what issue to pick, but we settled on human trafficking and I think everyone’s really excited about the impact that we can make this semester.”
Ward jumped on the thought of working with high school students to raise awareness because it’s a population frequently targeted by traffickers. Not only does fundraising teach about the severe implications that sex trafficking has already had on those trafficked, but it also informs teenagers that they themselves could fall prey to this crime.
“Teenagers are among the targeted population and even younger. So, that, for me, and the entire Coalition, is an important message. First realizing that you are among the targeted group of folks that traffickers prey upon. The average age of U.S. children forced into prostitution is 12, 13, 14 years of age, boys and girls,” Ward said. “For me and the Coalition, it’s not just, what can you do to help? But to first realize your own vulnerability to educate yourselves around that so that you can be your own eyes and ears for those ways that you may be drawn in.”
By Brittany Cornelison
[/tab] [tab title=”Local”] [heading size=”20″]Raising local awareness: Stopping enslavement before it begins[/heading]
Art by Maddy Mueller
Art by Maddy Mueller
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat may be most surprising to people about sex trafficking is that it’s happening locally. Columbia, Mo. because it’s along the I-70 corridor, is a hot spot for this type of trade.
Brent Messimer is the founder of Rescue Innocence, an organization in Columbia, that works to combat sexual persecution. Though this is a fairly new organization, founded in May 2012, Messimer built it upon the driving foundation that sex trafficking is an issue that society needs to stop.
The motivation behind Rescue Innocence came out of a trip that Messimer took to South Africa where the harsh reality that human trafficking is an issue all across the globe struck him.
“My buddy was a police officer and he was telling me that they were learning how to identify human trafficking for the World Cup soccer that was happening in 2010. I asked him why, and he said it’s because the human traffickers had put this number out that they were going to kidnap 40,000 girls and bring them to the World Cup … so that just blew me away. I couldn’t believe it and came back to the States and that number just stuck with me,” Messimer said. “Nine girls were rescued [through our outreach] during the World Cup, and I came back to the States and started sharing, you know, the stories and letting people know that this is real and it’s happening. It got people wanting to do something and my part was initially partnering in South Africa to reach out to these girls and then coming back and creating awareness trying to get girls to make smart decisions in the situations they put themselves in and create a help for people so that they understand how to keep safe. So, it ended up turning into an organization and started looking at how we could reach out, how can we help people who are in that situation, and not just keep them out of it, but also prevent them from getting into it. And that’s how Rescue Innocence was born.”
The difference in culture between South Africa and here in the United States is extreme, Messimer said. According to Polaris Project, the U.S. knows human trafficking as trafficking in persons (TIP) and, under federal and international law, trafficking is a crime, therefore causing it to be more prevalent in secret to avoid legal conflicts. However, South Africa has been working on a comprehensive human trafficking bill since 2007 with little success, according to notforsalecampaign.org, leaving traffickers to roam free and pick up their victims. One must also consider the poverty level of a particular nation in order to fully understand the reasoning behind this crime in that area, Messimer said.
“The thing is it’s very much hidden here, as far as comparing it to South Africa it’s not really possible … it’s more open there, I mean, it just depends on what eyes you’re looking through. If you’re talking to someone on the streets, they’ll tell you either they’ve had to sell their own body to survive or it’s been sold for them,” Messimer said.“You have people that are sold as prostitutes and there’s no distinguishing if they’re willfully doing that and then you have people who are actually trafficked behind closed doors.”
Saying this, though, doesn’t mean that human trafficking is not a serious issue here in the U.S. and even locally in Columbia. Rescue Innocence works each and every day to raise awareness and put a stop to the crime. Human trafficking comes in various forms across the nation, but this organization is doing what they can to give potential victims a way out of forced prostitution.
“We actually do a weekly outreach to people on the streets, people who are vulnerable or have been trafficked,” Messimer said. “We’ve been asked to help some single mothers who are in abusive relationships and one of them had actually lost her home and we were able to get her an apartment. And that’s part of the preventative, helping people actually not be trafficked is easier than helping a trafficking victim because of all the counseling and psychological abuse that they have.”
Rescue Innocence’s outreach is divided between international as well as local work. They do 10 percent of their work for the cause in South Africa and they direct the remaining 90 percent locally. Though this is a cause that needs to be stopped, it also needs prevention, Messimer said.
“It’s not all just what you would call ending trafficking. It’s a lot of benevolent work, because those are the people most likely to be trafficked. So when we do things for individuals, we have information that kind of explains the values … we let them know that they’re valued in Christ and they are created by God. But we also have information about human trafficking that we can [share]. It allows us to have eyes and ears for the community,” Messimer said. “There’s a ton that can be done by teenagers, it all depends on what they’re passionate about and how they can bring what they’re passionate about to create a platform for what we do.”
By Brittany Cornelison
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