• Human-trafficking expert speaks to women’s group

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  • Shortly after moving to Kansas, Jennifer Rapp dropped her 16-year-old daughter off at Urban Outfitters on Massachusetts Avenue in Lawrence. It was 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night and Rapp didn’t give it a second thought because she was nearby. Suddenly, her phone blew up.
    “Mom, you have to get down here right now.”
    Rapp pulled up to the store. Her daughter was outside talking to a man in his mid-20s.
    “I rolled down the window and said get in this car,” Rapp said.
    When her daughter got in, she reassured Rapp that she didn’t give the guy talking to her any personal information, but he did ask her where she was from, where she went to school, and if she would friend him on Facebook. He tried to read whether she was confident or vulnerable.
    “It was a wakeup call for me. It really put meaning to my job,” Rapp said.
    Jennifer Rapp, deputy director of the Anti-Human-Trafficking Unit in the Victims Services Division of the office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, spoke to a group of about 50 people during the Women of St. Ignatius weekly gathering Feb. 13.
    Rapp gave an overview of human trafficking in Kansas, which coincided with the community outreach event WOSI is conducting during February.
    “It’s just something we know is a problem, we know it’s going on, but we don’t know how to recognize it, and we don’t know how to help,” Abby Hartman, vice president of WOSI said. “So we’re hoping, with her coming in and talking, we’ll be more aware to help in some form better than we have in the past.”
    WOSI is a Catholic women’s group that meets weekly with fellowship and Bible study, and serves as an outlet of support. An aspect of this group is community service. During February, WOSI is collecting donations for Veronica’s Voice, an advocacy and survivor outreach program in Kansas City dedicated to supporting and empowering victims of sexual exploitation and educating communities.
    Items being collected include pharmacy gift cards for victim medicine or prescriptions, department store gift cards for essential needs, and coffee to offer for comfort.
    “One of the things we try to focus on is both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, things we can do to help other persons both physically and spiritually,” said Kristen Sloan, president of WOSI. “We can’t effectively serve the community if we are unaware of their needs.”
    Human trafficking — including sex and labor trafficking — is a modern form of slavery, Rapp said. It is based on the recruitment, harboring and/or the transporting of people for the purpose of exportation. It is the second largest and fastest growing industry in the world.
    Page 2 of 3 - The U.S. Justice Department identified Kansas City and Wichita as major originating cities for human trafficking, Rapp said.
    This in part is because of the centrality of Kansas with the intersection of interstate highways I-70 and I-35.
    “There’s actually a loop for human trafficking in the Midwest that starts in Chicago and goes down to St. Louis, comes over to Kansas City, Wichita, Dallas, Houston and then back up again where these traffickers move the children around and around to different cities,” Rapp said.
    More than 83 percent of human trafficking involves domestic victims, mostly children. Nationally, 77 percent of victims are runaways.
    The average age of entry of sex trafficking is 12-14 years old because of their vulnerability and the market for young children, but every age, gender, ethnicity, and class can be trafficked.
    A popular place to scout victims is online.
    “Facebook is a huge recruiting ground for traffickers to recruit teens,” Rapp said. “Traffickers recruit based on psychological and emotional vulnerabilities. Investigators identified 800 teenagers who were targeted by traffickers online. None of them reported it. Most targets don’t realize they are being scouted by traffickers.”
    Other places include malls, bus stops, public places and even in schools.
    “As a parent, that’s just a horrifying thought,” Rapp said.
    She recalled a Wichita teenager who recruited girls from his high school that his father living in Oklahoma pimped out.
    Tattoos on the neck and lower backs with a man’s name are often used as ways to “brand” victims. Other common identifiers that could be used to prompt further exploration to determine if human trafficking is occurring include, but are not limited to, signs of physical abuse, a minor calling someone significantly older her boyfriend, signs of drug addiction, and inappropriate clothing for the weather.
    The average age for a trafficker is 19-45 years old, the level of education is 9.3 years, 50 percent of traffickers complete high school, and their yearly income for trafficking is $220,000 to $500,000.
    In 2011, there were 27 identified trafficking victims in Kansas and 44 in 2012. Rapp said that while incidents may be on rise, it speaks more to people being identified and served.
    In order to better these numbers, she said she thinks something needs to be done about the large demand of sex trafficking.
    “John Schools,” educational classes for first-time offenders, have been popping up nationwide. They educate offenders on the health and safety risks associated with prostitution and have proven participants are 40 percent less likely to be re-arrested. Rapp said some states are mandating the classes as a diversion program or part of a criminal sentence. Right now, Kansas offers it as an option. Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City holds “John School” classes.
    Page 3 of 3 - Labor trafficking can be found in businesses or homes where men, women and children work as indentured servants. They are forced to work against their will with threats of violence or punishment.
    One common type of labor trafficking is traveling sales crews. These groups are usually 30-40 youths between 16 and 23 years old who work long hours each day soliciting money or selling products. Recruiters often target homeless youth and immigrants promising a better life and stable income. Once on board, recruiters use force, fraud and coercion to maintain control of their victims.
    “If you look closely you’ll oftentimes see an adult down the road,” Rapp said. “They’ve taken their documents and IDs.”
    False identification and paperwork can serve as indicators of trafficking.
    “Our office is working on producing these cards the size of a business card that give the indicators of human trafficking and the national hotline to call. We’re talking about giving them out to the general public so when someone rings your doorbell doing that you can give them a card and maybe, just maybe, they’ll slip it carefully in their pocket and call. “
    Rapp’s presentation concluded with resources attendees can use to report trafficking.
    “I think what our office wants to communicate to the public is if you see something, report it. Don’t intervene because it’s a very dangerous situation. We want to give people resources for how to report suspicious activity if you see it based on the indicators.”
    Dial 911 or local authorities to report a crime. To report a tip or get information, the national human trafficking hotline is (888) 3737-888 or text INFO or HELP to 233733. All calls are free and confidential and the hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The Kansas Human Trafficking Information and Referral number is (800) 828-9745 and is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
    Donations for Veronica’s Voice can be dropped off during WOSI’s gathering today or Feb. 27 from 9-11 a.m. in Frontier Chapel.
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