Forum focuses on serious topic

Ann Marie Jones, a survivor of human trafficking and peer support specialist at Dawn’s Place, Philadelphia, spoke at a community forum event held Thursday evening at the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church.

The subject of human trafficking is one most would rather not think about. Besides, it only happens somewhere else. Or does it?

Members of the Huntingdon Interact Club sponsored a Human Trafficking Community Forum Thursday evening at the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church and welcomed Carol Metzker, the author of “Facing the Monster,” and survivor Ann Marie Jones to lend insight into the issue.

“Thank you for choosing to be here despite the fact this is not one of those subjects that is fun to talk about,” Metzker said. “It can be a very deep, dark, serious subject that people are afraid of. The good news is that there is so much that we can do as individuals and as a society.”

While the number of those gathered for the community forum was modest, Metzker shared that is not an uncommon occurrence.

“One of the reasons people don’t always come to a presentation on human trafficking is that they believe it’s not where they are. ‘There’s no human trafficking in our town,’ is something that I always hear,” she said. “It’s always somewhere else.”

She shared two anecdotes related to presentations made to Rotary Clubs on opposite sides of the globe, one in the United States and the other in Kathmandu, Nepal.

“Here, I would always hear that ‘human trafficking is a problem in India and Africa, the former Soviet states. You don’t mean that it’s here in Pennsylvania do you?’ I would say, ‘Yes, I do,’” Metzker said. “In 2014, I was working on some Rotary projects in Kathmandu, Nepal, and I spoke to a group of Rotarians there. After speaking about the projects I had done, one of the Rotarians came up to me and said, ‘We know that human trafficking is a problem in the United States and in the west. But you didn’t really mean it was here, did you?’

“It was the same question and the same answer,” she added. “Yes, it is here. No matter where here is.”

Metzker observed for many it is simply hard to believe that something as terrible as human trafficking can be happening, practically in plain sight.

“This is the fact that bothers me the most — 11-14 years old is the average age of entry into formal commercial sexual exploitation in the in United States,” she said. “That’s middle school.”

Those in attendance were asked to share some typical middle school age activities, like homework, reading teen mysteries, studying algebra and playing soccer.

“The way this particular statistic used to read was, ‘11-14 years old is the average age of entry into formal prostitution.’ You want to watch my blood boil? Show me that statistic the way it used to be written,” said Metzker. “Can you consent to sex at age 11? Can you consent to sex at age 13 or 14? No, you cannot. If you are being sold for sex and you are a minor, if you are a minor who is having to trade sex for food or survival, if someone is buying you, that is human trafficking and it has got to stop.”

To better explain the definition of human trafficking, Metzker shared a 10-minute animated film, “I am Little Red,” geared toward pre-teens and teens which framed the subject in a modern-day fairy tale.

Following the screening, Metzker introduced Jones, who now works as a peer support specialist at Dawn’s Place, Philadelphia, a safe house for both domestic and international victims of sex trafficking.

“Sometimes, when we have a situation of an adult who was trafficked, the things that make them vulnerable to trafficking are situations which occurred when they were kids,” said Metzker.

Jones’ childhood was marked by trauma. Her parents were alcoholics. She experienced the death of a young sister. The family fractured following the arrest of her father for molesting her older sister. However, when she herself was molested by an older brother, it was “swept under the rug.”

Continuing struggles in adulthood, even after starting a family of her own, eventually led to her grappling with addiction and a target of human trafficking while homeless and living on the streets.

After many years, Jones was arrested, but received specialized services through the court system and Dawn’s Place. She now shares her experiences to help others.

At the conclusion of the forum, both women encouraged those present to work within their communities to expand awareness and shared the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour hotline, 1(888) 373-7888.

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