It’s a world problem, a national problem and a local problem that flows through our interstates every day. I-20 has earned the moniker “the super highway for human trafficking in the United States,” and I-85, I-10 and I-65 are major corridors, too. Learn how the Junior League of Birmingham and local municipalities are fighting back—and what you can do.
For Julia Meyers, chair of the Junior League of Birmingham’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, the cause is personal. Her late brother was a public defender in Jackson, Tennessee. Many of his clients were women who fell into a cycle of prostitution after being sold into human trafficking at a very young age. Today, in his memory, Meyers devotes herself full time to the cause.
“People don’t want to believe that it goes on in their community. I live in Vestavia, and I have personally talked to a trafficking victim in a Waffle House at 2 in the morning. It is here in Vestavia. It is in every community.”Meyers
JLB Anti-Human Trafficking Committee
Now in its second year, this committee works to raise community awareness. First, they seek to reach people through education, presenting mayors and city councils with the statistics. Then, comes the action. City leaders sign agreements to take necessary steps, including police training, to help eradicate human trafficking.
JLB also offers awareness training to civic groups, hotel and motel staffs, and school faculties, Meyers said. Additionally, beginning this month, the committee is launching a campaign to put bathroom signage in area truck stops. Posters are available to businesses who would like to post in their own bathrooms, especially fast food restaurants and motels.
Birmingham Metro Communities Step Up
So far, 31 municipalities across the Greater Birmingham Area have signed proclamations for human trafficking awareness. Those include the following:
Alabaster, Bessemer, Birmingham, Brighton, Brookside, Calera, Centerpoint, Chelsea, Clay, Fairfield, Gardendale, Helena, Homewood, Hoover, Hueytown, Indian Springs Village, Irondale, Kimberly, Leeds, Lipscomb, Maytown, Montevallo, Morris, Mountain Brook, Pelham, Sylvan Springs, Trussville, Vestavia Hills, Warrior, West Jefferson and Westover.
Most recently, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin declared January Human Trafficking Awareness Month at a city council meeting on January 15.
So are you fully aware of human trafficking? Check out these stats.
Human Trafficking By the Numbers
- It’s the no. 2 criminal industry in the world, second only to drug trafficking.
- 27 million people are trafficked in the world today.
- 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked in the U.S. every year.
- Trafficking activities generate about $150 billion worldwide annually.
- 12 is the average age of a human trafficking victim.
- 79 percent of sex trafficking victims are female, though the number of males is rapidly rising.
- Within the first 48 hours of leaving home, one-third of runaway youths become victims of human trafficking.
- Birmingham is one of 6 hot spots for human trafficking in a Southeastern circuit that also includes Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Atlanta.
How to Report Human Trafficking
If you suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1.888.373.7888 ( TTY: 711) or text 233733. Meyers told Bham Now that we should not worry about what will happen if we are wrong. “Those tips are really well vetted,” she said.
On January 30, the Junior League of Birmingham invited the public to a free lunch and roundtable discussion on human trafficking. If you missed it, here are the highlights.
Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Gilmer spoke to the misconception that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will deport undocumented victims of human trafficking.
- This misconception serves to make victims afraid of getting help.
- In reality, Homeland Security will fast track victims’ temporary U.S. residency status.
Teresa Collier, intelligence analyst at the Alabama Fusion Center, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency 7 to 8
- Collier’s team trains police statewide on how to identify and handle human trafficking.
- Training includes what questions to ask, how to ask them and tactics, like separating potential victims from suspected traffickers during questioning.
- Collier announced that the entire Birmingham police force has signed on to receive training from her team.
“For the Birmingham Police Department to sign up to train their entire team is really unheard of and something to be celebrated.”Meyers
- Only 1 percent of trafficking victims are abducted. The majority are sexual abuse victims from unstable families who have been lured away with promises of a better life.
Chris Lim, MBA, adjunct professor and project director of BEAMS (Bringing the Exploitation of Alabama’s Minors to a Stop) and Alabama Uniform Integrated Human Trafficking Initiative at the University of Alabama
- About one year ago, the Department of Justice awarded the University of Alabama a grant to develop a statewide protocol to address human trafficking in Alabama.
- Currently, Lim is performing research to quantify the problem.
- It’s estimated that 5,000 victims per month are trafficked through the state of Alabama. In one year, police identify and help approximately 1,000 of them.
“Using data from our initial research, there were 908 potential victims of human trafficking helped in 2017, and 57 percent of those were minors.”Lim
Carolyn Potter, executive director, with Tawanda Williams of The WellHouse in Birmingham
- The WellHouse helps female adult victims of human trafficking.
- Services include emergency housing, life skills classes, job skills training and transitional housing.
End It Summit on February 8
The End It Summit in Montgomery, sponsored by the JLB along with other Alabama Leagues, happens February 8. Find out more here.
Correction: The article originally stated 24 municipalities signed proclamations for human trafficking awareness. At the time of publication, correct number is 31.