Senators Examine Human Trafficking at State Capitol Study
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO
Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
Brenda Jones Barwick, APR, Chair
Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women
Telephone: (405) 516-9686
OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma Senate’s Committee on Education spent Tuesday morning hearing from a series of subject-matter experts as lawmakers examine ways to end human trafficking in the state.
The study on “School Human Trafficking Education and Awareness,” proposed by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), was requested by Sen. Darrell Weaver, a Republican from Moore.
In addition, Brenda Jones Barwick, APR, state chair of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women; Kristin Weis, CEO of The Demand Project in Jenks; and Whitney Anderson, executive director of The Dragonfly Home in Oklahoma City presented at the lawmakers’ study. Among the recommendations made to lawmakers by the presenters included:
- Expansion of a stop human trafficking education initiative to high schools and middles schools.
- Coordination with the state Education Department to incorporate a curriculum to allow students to recognize human trafficking.
- Train educators annually to recognize signs of human trafficking.
- Provide the free Human Trafficking Response Guide for School Resource Officers by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Allocate more dollars into recovery organizations to help victims of human trafficking escape the clutches of those who are selling them.
Senator Weaver is uniquely qualified to take on the issue as the former director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN). While in that position, he asked the Legislature for authority to include human trafficking in the agency’s mission.
“We found that we had the resources that allowed OBN to be particularly effective in the fight,” he said. “We knew the challenges with dealing with human victims was different than confiscating drugs and locking it up. Any effective enforcement of human trafficking requires a focus on recovery for those who have been victimized such horrors.”
Weaver told his colleagues about a fact-finding trip he and his team made to join the Las Vegas, Nevada police in their efforts to stop trafficking. The Las Vegas Police Department, Weaver related, handles more human trafficking cases than any local law enforcement agency in the nation.
“After only a couple days, I had seen enough tragedy and returned committed to everything possible to end this modern-day slavery,” Weaver said.
Barwick noted the commission is working with several state entities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like OICA to find both policy solutions for the human trafficking and help those victimized by the crime.
“Education at an early age is the key to stopping human trafficking,” she said, describing five “Community Conversation” programs presented around the state on how to recognize trafficking, with four more set for the fall and spring school semesters.
She also detailed the vulnerabilities that attract traffickers to potential victims. Those include runaways, those struggling with mental health and isolation issues, and young people who use social media. Indicators that someone has fallen prey to a trafficker include those who have disconnected from families, friends, or organizations; those who have stopped attending school; and those with a sudden change in friends, behaviors, attitudes, and groups.
Whitney Anderson of The Dragonfly Home said that many victims of human trafficking often have legal charges against them. “They will need quality legal representation to ensure law enforcement and the courts realize that they are victims, not the perpetrators who are controlling them.”
During his presentation, OICA CEO Joe Dorman shared statistics on the incidence of reported human trafficking in the state of Oklahoma. “There are 2,059 victims identified in 887 cases reported to the Human Trafficking Hotline,” he said. It was pointed out that several hotlines operated by different organizations also receive calls not included in those numbers.
“We know there are so many more cases that have either gone unreported or reported though other means,” Dorman said. “We know who those are most at risk, we know how they are being coerced and what they are being forced to do, and we know it will take collaboration between government and organizations like ours to be successful in the fight against human trafficking.”
Noting that trafficking exists because it is lucrative for the trafficker, Dorman asserted that policymakers should look for ways to make it unprofitable. “Human trafficking is just a pretty name for an ancient evil: slavery. We must strengthen the social safety net for those suffering from poverty, drug abuse, unstable living conditions, and sexual or domestic abuse. That will reduce the supply of potential victims to be exploited by traffickers.”
“I am so grateful for the experts who came before the study,” Weaver said.
“They laid out a clear and convincing vision of what it will take to effectively continue the fight against human trafficking. Further, I appreciate my colleagues for their thoughtful consideration of the presentations. Working together, I have great confidence we in Oklahoma can take the lead in the worldwide battle against this modern-day slavery.”