Updated: On Saturday’s panelists.
As Wichita residents learn about the prevalence of sex trafficking in the community, they are working to find ways to help authorities rid the city of this hidden crime.
A community group of volunteers is getting ready to help fix up a drop-in center for homeless youths near midtown in Wichita, and a local church is holding a three-day event this weekend to help educate residents about what happens on the streets of their town.
ICT SOS, an organization that grew out of concern about local sex trafficking, meets from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at the Midtown Baptist Good Neighbor Center, 11th and Emporia. That could soon become a place where homeless young people can find respite from the streets. Jennifer White, the group’s coordinator, hopes to build an army of volunteers to renovate the space, Extreme Makeover-style.
Studies show homeless and runaway youths are among the most vulnerable to be coerced into being victimized by the commercial sex trade.
Wichita residents can learn more about the scope of sex trafficking in a three-day event beginning Friday at College Hill United Methodist Church. Nita Belles, author of “In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States” is among the speakers.
Belles, a theologian who specializes in ministering to women, speaks at 7 p.m. Friday at the church, 1st Street at Erie.
College Hill is my church, and the United Methodist Women’s group began planning to have Belles visit about the same time as we ran a story last March detailing trafficking in Wichita.
At 9 a.m. Saturday, I’ll moderate a panel on the impact here in Wichita, which will include Belles and local experts Karen Countryman-Roswurm, a social worker and founder of the Anti-Sexual Exploitation Roundtable for Community Action; prosecutor Marc Bennett and ICT SOS’s White. (Update) Lt. Jeff Weible of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Children’s Unit will also be a panelist. Belles will speak again at church’s 10 a.m. Sunday service.
Because of the efforts of Countryman-Roswurm, law enforcement and community volunteers, Wichita has become a leader in battling sex trafficking. Police are increasing the officers assigned to investigate such cases, which have tripled the past four years.
“There is some good news here,” Belles wrote recently in the Huffington Post. “One in three human trafficking victims is rescued because someone saw something that didn’t look just right and reported it. If you are reading this article, you could be one to notice that incongruous detail and spare a young girl or boy or an adult a life of torture and pain.”
The events this week aim to continue to build support, which authorities need to fight what one Wichita police officer has called a crime that remains “beneath the surface.”