It’s a difficult issue many communities face, yet many people don’t realize even exists.

Jessica Evans, founder of Purchased, told a crowd of nearly 50 people at First United Methodist Church in Seymour that even small communities experience human trafficking.

Purchased is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit aimed at curbing human trafficking in Indiana.

The seminar April 30 was organized by local and regional congregations to bring light to the issue of human trafficking, which is the trade or sale of people for forced labor or sex.

Evans was joined by Todd Overton, who does similar work for the organization Hope61. Together, they presented information about human trafficking and what can be done to prevent it from happening.

The Rev. Beth Ann Cook of Rockford United Methodist Church helped organize the event and said many people in smaller communities don’t realize issues like this take place so near to home.

“I think it’s easy when you live in a nice small town that we don’t have these problems,” she said. “We just heard that yes it is happening right here, and it’s important for people to hear that this isn’t just happening around the world, it happens right here in middle class and middle America.”

Evans said it was important for people to know about the issue of human trafficking and to bring the message to smaller communities.

“It’s important for people to hear this because they are the eyes and ears, and they’re the ones that can call,” she said. “People will know when others are vulnerable, and they’re the ones that can see it and be a resource for help.”

Overton said there are people vulnerable in Jackson County and in the region, not only to being victims of human trafficking, but also buyers.

“There are people in Seymour, Columbus, North Vernon, Brownstown that are vulnerable to either being a victim or a buyer of human trafficking,” he said. “We need to stop it at its demand.”

Charlotte Moss, community services director for Turning Point Domestic Violence Services in Jackson County, said her organization has dealt with clients in the midst of domestic violence situations and have learned they have been involved in human trafficking at some point in their lives.

Moss said it is important to raise awareness of the issues because those affected will be more likely to speak up and use available resources.

Evans said she hopes everyone can have a hand in ending human trafficking.

“I appreciate when anyone in the community is willing to engage in a difficult topic and see it for what it really is,” she said. “And maybe there will be some small steps here to help put an end to it.”

The number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2016 was 83, up from 53 in 2015. The total number of human trafficking cases in Indiana reported to the hotline since 2007 is 348.

Evans said those are just the known cases.

“Obviously, everyone being trafficked does not have a call being made for them,” she said. “We can estimate that for every call we have, there is one or more out there not getting help.”

The Rev. Sandy Cooper with Seymour First United Methodist Church described the information as an eye-opener.

“I was glad to have the basic information, and I think it gave encouragement and inspiration we need to reach out as the church,” she said. “We need to make a difference at the base level.”

It’s hard to know how many people are affected by human trafficking or how much money the industry generates, Evans said.

“I’ve heard so much data about it, and you really have to take any piece you receive with a grain of salt because all we know is that a lot of people are affected by it, and there are a lot of people making a lot of money from it,” she said.

There are many forms of human trafficking, she said.

Besides trafficking in sex, there is trafficking of labor and child soldiering.

Evans said trafficking is simply people exploiting other people for a profit.

She said she became interested in the issue after visiting Nepal in 2007 and meeting victims of human trafficking.

“Meeting girls that were victims of human trafficking and seeing they were just like me inspired me to start Purchased,” she said. “We saw a need in our community for education.”

Purchased has three pillars to operate from to help curb the problem of human trafficking — educating communities, educating victims and mentoring,

“We have a mentorship program for girls that are coming out of commercial sex exploitation that just need a positive influence in their life,” she said.

Overton’s organization focuses on the prevention of human trafficking, which is a huge task but possible as long as people focus on one thing — community.

“When human trafficking takes place, there is a poverty of community,” he said. “By having a strong community, people can look out for each other and help prevent situations from occurring where people can be vulnerable to being trafficked.”

Overton told a story of a girl that had a college education and came from a moderately affluent background and was promised a job from a man. She ended up being sold in sex exploitation and spent five years in a brothel.

“She had the education and the background you wouldn’t expect. She just needed someone there to point out that this was a bad idea,” he said.

Cooper said Seymour First United Methodist Church plans to help enhance the community in its congregation, as it recently hired a minister of youth and young adults to help connect with the youth within the congregation.

“I would not be surprised if we incorporated how to raise self-esteem and how to build community into our youth programs,” she said.

Both Cooper and Cook said it was important for people in the community to hear information about human trafficking because people need to be aware of the problems that are likely taking place around them.

“I believe there is an issue here in our community, and I think as the church, we can impact lives,” Cooper said.

“Jesus cared about the least, lost and forgotten, and we have strong beliefs as United Methodists that we have to be the feet and hands of Jesus, caring about the people who are on the margins, and people who are human trafficking victims are people who need God’s grace and love,” Cook said.

By the numbers

National Human Trafficking Hotline calls in Indiana

Year;Calls;Human trafficking calls

2016;268;83

2015;241;53

2014;186;50

2013;247;56

2012;169;51

At a glance

For information about Purchased, visit purchased.org.

For information about Hope61, visit onemissionsociety.org.

If you suspect anyone being a victim or participating in human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or text BeFree to 233733.

Author photo
Jordan Richart is a correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.