BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Junior League of Birmingham recently established an anti-human trafficking committee and members are calling on city leaders to recognize the issue.
The committee was started last year to research human trafficking — focusing on child victims — and this year, more committee members were added in order to visit with local municiplaities and ask them to recognize January as human trafficking awareness month locally. January is already human trafficking prevention month, nationally.
Julia Meyers is the chairwoman of the Junior League of Birmingham’s anti-human trafficking committee.
“It gives us the opportunity to go into the city council meetings and speak a little bit about what human trafficking really is,” Meyers said.
Committee members also inquire about whether city police officers and hotel/motel industry staff are trained on the issue.
Currently, Meyers said the following cities have positively responded to the committee’s request: Alabaster, Bessemer, Birmingham, Calera, Centerpoint, Chelsea, Fairfield, Helena, Homewood, Hoover, Indian Springs, Irondale, Kimberly, Leeds, Lipscomb, Maytown, Montevallo, Morris, Mountain Brook, Pelham, Sylvan Springs, Trussville, Vestavia Hills and Westover.
The committee has also formed a public awareness campaign with the hope that businesses, like truck stops, would post flyers in restrooms to educate people about human trafficking as well as help victims recognize that they are being victimized.
“A lot of these women and teens — they really do not believe they are being trafficked,” Meyers said. “They think that these pimps are their boyfriends.”
Meyers said there are also many misconceptions about human trafficking. She said only about 1 percent of victims are actually abducted and many are lured into human trafficking via social media.
“I encourage people to really educate themselves because I really don’t think people still understand it,” Meyers said. “It’s really hard to wrap your head around the mind control that these pimps have on the girls and the boys.”
She said that the recent Lifetime docuseries on the infamous musical artist R. Kelly and his alleged sex cult has increased people’s interest and willingness to learn about sex trafficking.
The Cyntoia Brown case also increased public interest in sex trafficking. Brown was sentenced to life in prison when she was only 16 for killing a man. Brown claims she was a sex trafficking victim at the time of the murder and a Tennesse judge recently commuted her sentence to a total of 15 years.
The University of Alabama recently secured a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Justice to study human trafficking in the state. Meyers told CBS 42 her committee presents the researchers statistics to local mayors and that an estimated 5,000 victims travel through the state each month.
“It’s heartbreaking and that is why I’m so passionate about this issue,” Meyers said. “I just cannot imagine being held against my will and being forced to sell my body every single day, maybe 8 times a day, maybe 30 times a day it’s crazy how many times these women and children have to endure being raped basically.”
Meyers is also working with NCOSE, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, to raise money for an intake facility at UAB for minors who are recovered from sex trafficking.
A Rescue Innocence Gala will be held at The Club on Feb. 21 to raise money for the program. Meyers said it is focused on funding a coordinator position to intake sex trafficked minors.
The silent auction will begin at 6:30 p.m. followed by a 7:30 p.m. dinner. Tickets range in price. For example, executive sponsors can reserve a table for eight guests for $5,000 and presenting sponsors can secure three tables with 24 guests for $50,000.