Garland County Human Trafficking Task Force Chairman Melisa Glenn recently discussed the importance of spreading awareness of the multibillion-dollar industry that preys on the “weak and vulnerable,” in light of a new social media campaign.
A “Save the Children” hashtag has been circulating social media for weeks, and while Glenn notes she does not “completely understand” the meaning of the #Savethechildren social media circulation since it has no “clear direction,” as it covers sex trafficking, Hollywood exploitation and child immunizations, she said spreading awareness for human trafficking is important.
“Awareness is always good, but sharing a post alone doesn’t change things,” she said in an interview with The Sentinel-Record. “I think it can be more traumatizing to just share about horrible stories without offering ways to make a difference. Every person has a set of skills or abilities that they do well and can use those abilities to bring awareness and get involved, whether that be an artist, teacher, mother, lawyer, officer, doctor, nurse, case manager, pastor, etc.”
“An estimated 400,000 people are currently being exploited through human trafficking in the U.S. — which includes labor trafficking and sex trafficking, as well as debt bondage and forced marriage,” Glenn said.
The International Labor Organization estimated that in 2017 there were over 40 million people enslaved around the world, and 71% of victims of modern slavery are female, Glenn said.
Human trafficking is fueled by demand, she said, which makes it a multibillion-dollar industry. In 2017, ILO estimates that sex trafficking generated $99 billion and labor trafficking $51 billion in revenues worldwide.
“Although Garland County does not see a large number of cases of human trafficking in comparison to bigger cities, the stories would surprise you,” Glenn said. “Sex trafficking and labor trafficking have occurred and are occurring in our own community.”
She said some examples include a woman in her mid-20s who was kidnapped in Texas after work one day and forced into sexual exploitation for two years all over the United States until her trafficker brought her to Hot Springs to service customers locally purchasing sex from online sites.
Another woman from Central America received a false job offer in Hot Springs and after arriving her documents were taken from her and she was held against her will.
At one point there was a minor who was enrolled and attending a local middle school while her mother was exploiting her in forced prostitution, Glenn said.
“As long as there is a demand, the horrible reality is that women, men and children will be supplied to meet those demands, regardless of the size or demographics of a city,” she said.
One practical way to help end human trafficking, she said, is to slow and end the demand for it.
“Human trafficking is very much a supply and demand issue,” Glenn said. “Sex trafficking is fueled by the demand of sex on demand, originating with pornography. Arkansas declared pornography a public health crisis in 2017 and if we begin to address it as such, we will see a decline in demand as it is replaced with healthy sexuality.”
To protect minors from becoming trafficking victims, she said their online presence should be monitored.
“Keep all social media settings on private and only accept people as friends if you actually know them in person — when your profile is set to public, then anyone can see your pictures, location and learn where you go to school or other places you hang out,” Glenn said. “Don’t develop friendships with people online that you do not know in person — many minors are tricked by people who pretend to be their friends and even their boyfriends but eventually get them to meet in person — this often happens on social media and game consoles.”
Parents should not only monitor their child’s social media but also their own.
“As parents, we need to be more aware of the pictures and hashtags that we are sharing of our children online,” Glenn said. “When you share innocent pictures of your children those pictures are no longer yours to choose who can view them. Those pictures can be saved and shared by others. Pedophiles and predators track innocent hashtags such as #PottyTraining, #BathTime, #NakedKids, #KidsBathTime and more.”
The QAnon group “Save the Children Activists of Greater Arkansas” held protests statewide Aug. 22, including one in downtown Hot Springs displaying posters that read “Children don’t just disappear,”https://www.hotsr.com/”Keep your (expletive) hands off our children,” and “#SaveOurChildren.”
Group administrator Savannah Jacobs said the group, which was formed via Facebook Aug. 2, is trying to bring awareness to child sex trafficking and to “taint” President Bill Clinton’s name in his hometown, citing his ties to Jeffrey Epstein.
“This (group) is to bring awareness to the sex trafficking being the pandemic, really, that is brushed under the rug. … The (COVID-19) pandemic is a distraction,” Jacobs said. “We’re filling our minds with whether or not to wear a mask versus asking the question of where are all these kids going, and asking all these questions of why are all these connections with the elites going down with Jeffrey Epstein.”
According to an Associated Press article published Aug. 19, QAnon is a “baseless” conspiracy theory that centers on an alleged anonymous, high-ranking government official known as “Q” who shares information about an anti-Trump “deep state” often tied to satanism and child sex trafficking.
“People just need to think for themselves,” Jacobs said. “You can’t trust anything that’s really on the mainstream media. … We’re not conspiracy theorists out here — I mean maybe one point in time — but now with all of these connections that are coming out, the evidence against these people, how many coincidences are mathematically possible.”
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