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Too Close to Home: Soroptimists Shine Spotlight on Human Trafficking

By Cindy Brookshire

Soroptimist International Clubs of Woodbridge and Manassas came together on February 1 to present “Human Trafficking: A Global Issue Close to Home,” an event at the Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center in Manassas that included educational displays (ACTS SAVAS Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Service, Bridge to Freedom Foundation, DC Stop Modern Slavery, Shared Hope International and other organizations), a showing of the video, “Not My Life,” a true story of child slaves around the world, and an informative panel discussion moderated by Sparkle Raymond, President of Soroptimist International of Woodbridge.

Attendees included members of both clubs, educators, and women and men of all ages from the Prince William community. Manassas resident Kim Ross said she heard about it through the Woman’s Club of Manassas and brought her daughter, Gaby to the event.

Retired FBI Special Agent, Greg H. Bristol, Bristol Public Safety Consultants, introduced the film and appears in a segment of it. He later answered questions about a young immigrant named “Grace” whom he helped to rescue from a domestic slave trafficking situation in Falls Church, and how he was able to build the case against her perpetrators and document it for prosecution. “Grace” is now free of her captors. She is a nursing assistant and has a full time job.

Highlights of the panel discussion included:

Derrick Higgins, Assistant Director of Admissions, Youth for Tomorrow, talked about the residential program’s “Girls On A Journey” program that works with youth who have been involved in human trafficking, and explained how easily young girls can be groomed by men who simply go up to them at the shopping mall and tell them how beautiful they are; they seek the ones with low self-esteem.
Lisa Johnson-Firth, Principal, Immigrants First, an immigration and human rights law firm knowledgeable in the rights of human trafficking victims, urged citizens to contact their Prince William delegates at the Virginia General Assembly to push for making legislation to prevent human trafficking a priority because the Commonwealth doesn’t have an anti-human trafficking law. She talked about the blatant ads for mail order brides, and that immigrant workers who may be taken advantage of range from agricultural workers in Winchester to local domestic workers in homes or nail salons.

Hans Mumm, Victory Systems, LLC, retired US Army Captain and certified “train the trainer” in the area of human trafficking for the Department of Defense with extensive experience in counter terrorism and counter human trafficking, pointed out the deficiencies in training of police officers along the I95 corridor where human trafficking occurs.
Fay M. Phillips-LeSane, President and CEO of Agape Behavior Health and Consulting Services, President of Adolescent and Family Development Center and a member of Soroptimist International of Woodbridge, advised audience members to be aware of their surroundings; if you see something that looks out of place, like a child not wearing shoes in wintertime, report it. Also, she suggested having someone come and speak to your community group or faith group about human trafficking to spread the word that it is a local issue, not just a global one.

Deborah Sigmund, Director and Founder of Innocents At Risk, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating trafficking of women and children, echoed Fay’s comments about being aware of things out of place. She saw an immigrant child at an airport who was alone, with just a sign, and alerted a flight attendant, who commented that she sees that all the time. That led her to begin to pursue, through many obstacles, the education of more than 98,000 flight attendants around the world on what to look for in what may be a human trafficking situation. She said her organization accepts donations of basic care kits of toiletry items (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) for girls who have been rescued.

Doreen Dauer, supervisor of Student Assistance and Prevention Programs, Prince William County Public Schools, shared that PWCS has been the recipient of a grant from the Potomac Health Foundation to support a project that is mitigate serious health issues associated with domestic human trafficking of youth, including awareness, prevention and restoration. A 15-second public service announcement has been produced that will be shown at local movie theaters and on the school website. A lesson will be taught through Family Life Education classes. Other educational materials are also being produced as part of the grant.

Rich Buchholtz, coordinator of the Gang Response Intervention Team, talked about services available to victims of human trafficking, such as no-cost tattoo removal and health care services through a grant from the Potomac Health Foundation and the Greater Prince William Health Center.

Soroptimist is an international volunteer organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. For more information, visit www.simanassas.org and http://si-woodbridge.org/.

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