GALLIA COUNTY — Human trafficking is an issue that has grown in coverage in recent years, though it often seems as if rural areas like Gallia County are untouched by it. A new initiative helps to fill gaps in education and awareness concerning human trafficking.
“Human trafficking looks different in our area, it might not look like it does in a big city, but it’s here,” Lora Jenkins, who had previously worked on an anti-human trafficking taskforce before this new initiative, which is a broader effort to target the issue, said.
The new initiative, which is being launched in part due to the work of Dr. Christi Bartman, who researches human trafficking and available services in Appalachia to better fight the crime, held its first meeting on Monday over Zoom, a video-sharing platform. The meeting, which like many other administrative meetings, was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Discussed at the meeting was the role of responsibility. Many attendees are involved in other coalitions, like Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery (CPR), a group that addresses issues like addiction and mental health through various committees.
“One of the things we’ve discovered in our coalition work is that together we can do a lot,” Thom Mollohan, who helps lead CPR, said. “But one or two of us, it’s very hard to keep things going.”
Moving forward, the new anti-human trafficking effort will likely have co-chairs who share the burden of the work to ensure that no member is overwhelmed.
“In Gallia County it is true it looks different here than it does across the state and country,” Mollohan said, “but it is here and individuals are profoundly impacted by the situations and crises that we are talking about today.”
He urged attendees to reach out to anyone who is interested in joining the initiative.
Previously, Gallia County had an anti-human trafficking taskforce that worked before this broader effort that worked with Scioto County.
“We met monthly, and then we had events to create awareness and education of human trafficking in the community,” Jenkins said.
Some ways that taskforce addressed human trafficking included giving away stickers that featured the national human trafficking hotline, which can be texted or called. Stickers were also placed on some gas pumps throughout the county to further reach people.
“We had a goal of creating awareness, education, providing information to schools, particularly middle and high schools,” Jenkins added. “We had videos and in-services at the schools and were successful in creating that awareness. Had some good conversations with our teachers and also our juvenile court.”
“The stickers started so many conversations,” said Jennifer Spencer, a student at the University of Rio Grande and president of the college’s psychology club. “So many people said, ‘I didn’t realize there was a taskforce, I didn’t realize this was a problem.’ I think it’s a fantastic start.”
The next meeting for the anti-human trafficking initiative will take place on Monday, October 12, at 11 a.m.
The national human trafficking hotline can be called or texted at 1-888-373-7888.
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Sharla Moody is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing from Gallipolis, Ohio. She is a graduate of River Valley High School and currently attends Yale University.