Warnings of sex trafficking

Published 8:57 pm Monday, January 28, 2019

There are things people need to know about the epidemic of human trafficking. That was the message at a recent meeting of the Junto Woman’s Club.

The rampant slavery exploits 24.9 million people across the world, according to traffickinginstitute.org, from children to adults. They’re coerced into forced labor or sex work, and their captors profit from their suffering in excess of $150 billion annually.

Most importantly, people need to know that this isn’t a problem that’s just overseas. Human trafficking exists in many forms across the United States, from major cities to small town America.

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“People don’t get that it’s going on in very small communities. In Smithfield, in Carrollton and in Suffolk,” said Dana Wynn Steele, attorney, author and founder of Angel’s Hands at the Ranch, a restoration home for trafficked victims that’s based in Suffolk.

Steele was the guest speaker at the Junto Woman’s Club of Suffolk monthly meeting that was held on Monday at St. John’s Parish Hall on Kings Highway. Since 2010, January has been designated as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, and the Virginia General Federation of Woman’s Clubs ongoing state-level project is human trafficking awareness and prevention.

The Suffolk club has formed a human trafficking task force to partner with other regional organizations and educational programs to put the spotlight on this issue.

“We’ll be meeting in the next week or two to look at initiatives that we can continue to bring to the forefront,” said Lorraine McGovern of the Junto Woman’s Club.

Steele became involved a decade or so ago as an attorney. It was around that time that she began representing children who were either brought to the United States for explicit trafficking purposes, or were trafficked after they arrived.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported more than 5,000 human trafficking cases in 2018. The overwhelming majority of these cases were for sex trafficking, and the victims were primarily female.

Steele explained what this looks like to the Junto audience. She said the average girl starts being trafficked around the ages of 11 and 12. Someone approaches them — an older guy that’s very charming and flattering — and he spends months grooming her and other, vulnerable children. Then come the drugs and coercion and before they know what’s happened to them, they’re being trafficked as sex slaves.

This scenario isn’t limited to any ethnicity or any economic or social background.

“Do not think that your nice, Christian granddaughters — who are being homeschooled or are in public (or) private schools — do not think that they are exempt because they are not,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given this talk, (and) years later a mom calls me to say their daughter has been trafficked.”

She and her husband established their 22-acre ranch in 2016, where they take in both trafficked victims and rescued animals. She counted llamas, horses, ponies, goats and one lamb that are currently at the ranch, along with six women in recovery.

The ranch is a 501c3 nonprofit that provides the women opportunities for education, counseling, job skills and training. The animals that they rescue are used for their therapy in a faith-based program that helps them heal and find their purpose past their trauma.

“Some of us struggle with that most of our lives, (even when) we didn’t have this trauma,” she said.

For more information and to make a donation, visit angelshandsranch.org.