Healing and hope provide a voice for the unheard
MUNCY – The United Methodist Women of Muncy have taken up a good cause. With thousands of children being exploited every year, the organization decided to help advocate awareness to the problem of domestic minor sex trafficking.
On Tuesday, April 14 they invited the “Oasis of Hope” a voice for minor victims of sex trafficking in North Central Pennsylvania. Two resourceful spokespersons, Brittany Tasch and Sarah Fedchak from Williamsport, came to the First United Methodist Church in Muncy to inform and educate the public on the issue and where help can be provided.
This is not a problem that is going away any time soon. According to the two representatives, there are less than 300 beds available for rescued trafficked children in the United States. Tasch and Fedchak are volunteers for “Oasis of Hope” a safe haven founded by Debbie Colton in 2012 that offers different forms of therapy and home schooling and a safe place to live for young girls who have found themselves victims to provide labor or commercial sex in many situations.
“Human trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery,” said Tasch, a young woman who volunteers her time helping the victims who are often an average of just 13 years old. “Some as young as 8 or 9,” she added. “They can be anybody’s children.” Situations happen in rich and poor alike. Sometimes they are kidnapped and forced to go with them which is often an older boyfriend. Sometimes parents aren’t home and they are busy, responded Tasch to a question of parent’s roles.
“Often the girls are too terrified to run away. It is psychological bondage, and an underground market driven by demand,” said Fedchak who is a young mother herself.
More people are involved in slavery now, than 150 years ago, according to the women. “It is estimated that 27 million people are in some sort of slavery, most of them women and children,” said Tasch.
She also added that 50 percent of men in churches have admitted to pornography, a gateway to human trafficking. “This happens here in Lycoming County.”
The Oasis of Hope can provide hope and healing. It is a haven to come to for help and anonymity. The average time a young girl can expect to live under the conditions of sex trafficking is seven years. A question was asked where sex trafficking takes place and the young representatives from Oasis responded, “Wherever there are drugs and guns. Girls are sold 20 to 30 times a day.”
Often the perpetrators pose as boyfriends or caretakers and they are “master manipulators.”
“It is a psychological warfare for young vulnerable girls.” Buyers can be tourists, clergy, politicians, judges and law enforcers, people they are supposed to trust.
Children are more susceptible to the deception and manipulation of traffickers. The speakers also advised the audience to look for warning signs such as delinquency, chronic running away, older boyfriends, special marked tattoos, and substance abuse. Also be aware of locations that commonly attract youth like schools, malls and parks. Often jobs and church events can be targeted. Both boys and girls can be victims.
“Victims can by anyone from any background, even star athletes and honor students,” said Sarah. “They shower them with gifts to make them feel valuable.” She gave an example of a 17 year old honor student who got involved with a 24 year old boy. He offered to drive her to a college she wanted to apply to, and in one week she became a stripper. “Girls have insecurities that are easy to prey upon,” Sarah added.
Our criminal justice system is unbalanced. A 16 year old can choose a life of prostitution and drug addiction, then be treated like criminals while the “johns” are rarely punished. “These young girls are victimized and criminalized at the same time. Many did not make a decision to be like this,” they added. “They are manipulated into fear so they can’t report the buyers.” They are beaten so much, there is no hope for a future or long term planning. “It is completely taken away from them,” said Brittany. The girls are so brainwashed, they lose connections to all family life. Many are moved around a lot and kept in private locations.
This is where Oasis of Hope can help. It is faith-based and completely run on donations and prayer. The non-profit organization also produced a 20 minute video which they take to the schools and churches. Free services are offered for the girls such as counseling, medical care, therapy, education, job and life skills and recreational opportunities.
After the presentation, Kathy Burkhart from the church took up an offering. “We need to learn more and not shy away from this issue,” she claimed.
Karen Barraco from Muncy United Methodist Women introduced the speakers and concluded, “The more awareness raised, the better this issue can be tackled.”
Meanwhile, The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, unanimously passed the Senate last Wednesday to help victims. The bill expands law enforcement to target sex traffickers and also creates funding. Similar legislation passed the House earlier. Part of this funding will come from fines paid by sex traffickers.