KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 6, 2018) -- The news was sickening. In October 2017, a missing juvenile from North Carolina was found in a vehicle during a sex trafficking sting at a Knoxville hotel.
In August 2017, a youth leader, a coach, and EMT were among 11 men snared after they tried to pay for sex with underage girls. The youth leader worked at a church in Bristol. The coach lived in Kingsport. The emergency medical technician worked in Johnson City.
An upcoming event organized through Holston Conference aims to educate church members about the modern-day slavery that, according to authorities, exists everywhere, including east Tennessee and southwest Virginia. Most of the crimes will never make it into the news. However, an international rescue organization, Hope for Justice, claims that more victims can be saved with the help of local churches.
A “Hope for Justice” dinner and information session is planned on Friday, Feb. 23, 6 p.m., at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville. The event is organized by Holston Conference United Methodist Women (UMW) and Holston Conference Connectional Ministries. The cost is $25 per person.
“People need to understand and know that this is happening in our own back door,” said Lori Sluder, mission coordinator for Holston UMW.
For the last nine years, human trafficking has been the national mission priority for United Methodist Women. Sluder said she wanted to organize an educational event that would draw more Holston Conference churches into the fight against the crime.
“I hope that ‘Hope for Justice’ will educate us on how to spot and report human trafficking and about the part that churches can play,” Sluder said.
Hope for Justice defines human trafficking as “the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation."
- A person who is trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation may be controlled by violence, threats, substance abuse, deception, or grooming.
- Forced labor is work done involuntarily under the threat of a penalty such as violence or harm to the victim’s family and often unable to leave.
Hope for Justice addresses the crime by rescuing victims, restoring lives, and reforming society. The organization estimates that 24.9 million people worldwide are victimized by forced labor, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude. How to spot the signs.
Isaac Jones is the organization’s U.S. regional development manager. As a child, Jones attended Cherokee United Methodist Church in Johnson City. His father, Lawrence Jones, worked at Buffalo Mountain Camp from 1997 to about 2002.
“This mission to end modern-day slavery is part of God’s mission. That’s clear in scripture,” said Jones, who has an undergraduate degree in religious and spiritual community development from Vanderbilt University and a master of divinity from Lipscomb University.
“We want to raise awareness in the local church and empower them for a mission that they ought to be involved in,” Jones said. The organization invites congregations into partnerships involving speakers, prayer, and financial donations.
Jones will be one of three speakers at the Feb. 23 event at Cokesbury United Methodist Church, along with Ben Cooley, co-founder and CEO, and Richard Schroebrel, head investigator.
Eighty-five percent of counties in Tennessee have had arrests related to human trafficking, Jones said. Four counties had 100 cases involving minors and more than 100 cases involving adults.
Virginia ranked 15th in the United States for the most reported cases of human trafficking in 2016. The state reported 148 cases with 59 involving minors, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Dinner will be provided at the Feb. 23 event, paid through the $25 registration fee. 0.15 CEU credits are available.
Registration deadline is Feb. 14. Register here.
Contact Annette Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exploited: Inside the Dark World of Child Trafficking (IndyStar 2018)
200 attend human trafficking workshop at Munsey UMC (WJHL, March 9, 2017)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.