What started out as a church action team at Liberal First United Methodist Church has grown into a community-wide seminar on preventing and responding to human trafficking, called “Hidden in Plain Sight.”
“It’s not a problem a lot of churches are talking about,” the Rev. Keith Anglemyer, Liberal First UMC pastor, said at the opening of the seminar, “but churches need to.”
About 50 people attended all or part of the seven-hour seminar Jan. 12 at Liberal High School.
Speakers — two of which were last-minute replacements due to illness — were Dorthy Stucky Halley, director of the victim services division of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office; Kimberly Becker, founder of the Central Kansas Dream Center in Great Bend; and program development director Risa Rehmert and assistant director Allison Farres of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University.
Human trafficking, whether for sexual or labor purposes, happens when the victim has no freedom to leave the situation, Halley said.
“They’re often tricked into it, and end up being trapped,” she said. “It is a modern form of slavery.”
Often runaways, potential workers are swept up within 24-48 hours on the street, Halley said, and within 72 hours are dispatched to locations where there is a demand, especially Houston, Dallas and Las Vegas, Halley said.
“Anyone can be vulnerable,” she said, “and certainly any child can be vulnerable.”
Becker said the Central Kansas Dream Center, patterned after a similar program she and other leaders had visited in Arizona, works with “every part of the individual,” including a nine-month discipleship program.
It includes various support groups, as well as a service that provides mailbox addresses to the homeless, and equine therapy for residents interested in working with horses. Those in the program are required to make a connection with a church family.
“Spiritual resources are huge,” Becker said. “It helps when we can connect with a church.”
Becker interviewed one of the Dream Center clients, Christine Crumrine, on the stage of the Liberal High auditorium.
Crumrine, whose birth parents allegedly showed neglect and violence, was adopted at age 2 and ran away from home at 15.
“I realized I could use my body to get what I wanted,” said Crumrine, who admitted to being addicted to drugs and alcohol by age 25.
A man she considered her boyfriend took her on out-of-town trips while living in Oklahoma, she said, and encouraged her to perform sexual favors for money to pay for their trip. Brainwashing and threats of violence kept her with him for years.
A friend of hers and fellow trafficking victim committed suicide, she said, which began to turn Crumrine’s life around.
“It breaks my heart that some women think that’s the only way out,” she said.
After one of several times Crumrine was arrested, the tattoos on her body were photographed as well as the typical mugshot. The reason, she was told, was that so her dead body could be more easily identifiable.
“It wasn’t a matter of ‘if,’ it was a matter of ‘when,’” she said.
Crumrine, Becker said, is one of the success stories of the Dream Center.
“She also learned what unconditional love is,” Becker said. “Literally we saw transformation from the inside out.”
The Wichita State center staff members said human trafficking is growing throughout the state.
“The fact is it’s happening in all of our communities,” Farres said. “It’s not ‘those people.’”
About 10 percent of trafficking victims are kidnapped, according to the center’s research, and 66 percent are drawn in by other people.
“Anyone can be trafficked,” Rehmert said.
Those who want to work with trafficking victims cannot approach them like a “savior,” Rehmert said, but should position themselves as a resource.
“If we start out to help, we end up doing harm and get disillusioned in the long run and quit,” she said.
Many attendees were moved by what they heard.
“It was eye opening, and I realized how uninformed I’ve been,” said Linda Miller, Liberal.
Reita Isaacs, president of the Liberal General Federation of Women’s Clubs, said the national organization is working this year to combat domestic violence, and the human trafficking information was valuable.
She was disappointed in the attendance for the church-sponsored seminar.
“People who needed to be here – school boards, teachers, medical and law enforcement – that could look out for it were not here,” she said.
Anglemyer said the seminar was not a “one-and-done” but the spark for keeping the topic alive and getting the church and community involved.
“I know we’ve made some first steps,” he said, “which is to find out what we need to find out.”