Published On: Thu, Jul 6th, 2017

Area residents learn human trafficking is not an isolated incident

LAUREL — Laurel native Jennifer Van Meter dispelled quite a few rumors when she spoke here recently to about 40 people at the United Methodist Church.
Van Meter said human trafficking is not something that only happens in foreign countries or in large metropolitan cities.
Human trafficking is tied to small town USA and can and does affect everyone in Nebraska, she said.
Van Meter served with ReachGlobal, an international mission organization, for 19 years in a variety of roles.
She spent 15 years in Bucharest, Romania as an educator and administrator for Bucharest Christian Academy – a school for the children of missionaries and businessmen – as well as ministering in several capacities with the marginalized and institutionalized.
While in Romania, she penned a weekly column for the Advocate.
She currently teaches seventh and eighth grade English language arts and Spanish for Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School.  She also continues to serve in a volunteer capacity with ReachGlobal, speaking to churches, civic groups, and law enforcement in the Midwest about human trafficking, as well as being involved in international anti-trafficking organizations and ministries.
She and her husband, Gary, reside in Randolph. Her passions include influencing children, praying for the persecuted, and enjoying well-penned words.
“I was first exposed to human trafficking in Bucharest. After spending a Saturday morning playing with kids at a local orphanage, Gary and I noticed some of the teen girls waiting at a bus stop,” she said. “They were headed downtown to sell themselves, and later we discovered several had become victims of trafficking. Our hearts broke, but we felt helpless to some degree, not knowing what to do other than to continue to volunteer and build relationships with them by helping them to see the value in themselves that we saw.”
After moving back to the U.S. in 2012, and realizing  human trafficking was a problem here, few people were talking about it in Nebraska, she wanted to become involved.
“I was privileged to begin working with a friend who was living in Ukraine at the time and seeing things similar to what we had experienced in Romania,” she said. “Together we began learning and then speaking and doing trainings both nationally and internationally,” she said.
During the presentation, the audience sat in complete silence with faces of serious concern, obviously bothered by the unnerving information being revealed.
Van Meter started the presentation by asking the audience five questions.
Do you drink coffee, consume chocolate, wear clothes made of cotton, own a smart phone or view pornography?  She then explained later in the presentation, that she would tie all these questions together.
Van Meter said human trafficking is the recruiting, harboring, transporting, and/or obtaining of a person or persons for the purpose of exploitation.
There are 61,000 people enslaved in the U.S. each year, she said.
Of the 61,000-enslaved people in the U.S. 80 percent are women, 50 percent are under 18 with the average age being between 12-14 years of age according to the Department of Justice.
It was obvious these statistics were upsetting to audience members.
“I am appalled by the statistics of the average age of trafficked people. They are the most vulnerable,” said Betty Graf, member of the Laurel United Methodist Women.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported in 2016 one in six children who run away are likely to be a victim of trafficking.  The National Run-away Safeline reports 1.6-2.8 million run-aways yearly.
The audience, now sitting on the edge of their seats, listened about who are the most vulnerable to be trafficked.
Van Meter said 12-14 year olds are the most vulnerable, especially if they are run-aways, or have been abused, or are impoverished, addicted, or truant children, or from welfare/foster homes.
Van Meter educated the audience on the two types of pimps.
A Gorilla pimp tricks victims with lies, use of force and control.  A Finesse pimp invests time in their victim, seducing their victims, finding out their dreams and breaking them down physically and psychologically.  The finesse pimps make the victim think he loves them and they are special.  He starts an abuse cycle with his victim.  Eventually he will sell his victim and she will be raped for money and he promises it won’t happen again.  The cycle continues and only gets worse.  A pimp sells his victim multiple times a night.
She even warned traffickers are on video game sites searching for victims.
Van Meter said a teenage girl is 20 times as likely to be trafficked as to die in an automobile and 50 times as likely to be trafficked as to commit suicide.
The audience also learned how pornography is linked to trafficking.
“We live in a soft porn world,” she said, adding  boys ages 12-17 are the largest consumer group of pornography. “Viewing pornography changes the brain structure. Pornography is a very hard addiction to overcome. Viewing pornography leads to decreased sexual satisfaction. Viewers go from hard core porn to child porn to porn where people are killed, to acting out the porn they view. Women and children seen in pornography are trafficked. Viewing pornography normalizes women as objects, brutality to women and children and the degradation of women.  One in seven men are addicted to pornography.”
Van Meter then brought the topic very close to home by saying 75 percent of the people trafficked in Nebraska are Nebraskans. 55 percent of them never leave the state and 900 individuals are sold monthly, often multiple times.
Between November 2015 and May 2016, 1,846 people were trafficked in Omaha. One out of 10 individuals sold for sex is a minor.  Nebraska holds several events such as Nebraska State Fair, College World Series, Husker games, and the Annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting — that cause these sex trafficking numbers to rise, Van Meter said.
Interstate 80 is a major transport system. I-80 is an easy find for trafficking at rest stops.  One example, people can find ads on Craig’s List for solicitation.
The material presented was shockingly horrific to audience members, but Van Meter offered encouragement.
“You are the hope for the change,” she said. You can fight objectification.”
Objectification is viewing women as objects not a person with feelings, she said.
“(We need to) watch our words, don’t joke about pornography for example. Ask questions when something doesn’t look right.  At nail salons, fairs, motels, kids selling door to door. Be a friend.  When one person takes an active role or interest in a person’s life they can make a difference.”
She mentioned Teammates is a good way to help vulnerable youth.
Van Meter began to tie up the presentation by going back to her five questions.  She said many companies use enslaved people to gather coffee beans. Industries that produce chocolate and cotton and some that produce clothing and smart phones are also known for using enslaved people, she said.
“You need to be wise consumers.  Look for the Free Fare Trade sign on packages. Consider the products you buy,” she said.
She said the biggest thing to know is, “If you see something, say something.”
Audience members said they learned a great deal from the presentation.
“I saw her presentation a couple of years ago and I would attend it again. It’s very eye-opening information. I wish we would have a huge crowd of parents and teens to listen to it,” said Rose Maxson.
Maggie Huetig, Laurel, agreed.
“It is scary to think it is so close. It is right here, slavery is still here,” she said.
Van Meter then handed out the following trafficking red flags to look for:
• Lack of knowledge of their community or whereabouts
• Not in control of their own identification documents (ID/passport)
• Restricted controlled communications-unable to speak for themselves
• A fearful, anxious, depressed, tense, nervous or submissive demeanor.
Anyone suspecting something is wrong should not be afraid to report it, she said.  Van Meter then gave contact numbers to the audience — 1-888-3737, or people can text HELP to BEFREE (233733).