Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:53 AM
Published on: Thursday, December 05, 2013
By Yevgeniy Trapeznikov,
Wearing a bright red two-piece outfit Reverend Linda Thomas kicked off the Red Flag conference hosted in the First Baptist Church of Glenarden on Nov. 23.
This is the second Red Flag event which the ministry has held in Landover, Md., since 2011.
The idea dates back to 2005 when Thomas announced to the church and community that the ministry would be engaged in activities to promote awareness of domestic violence and to empower its victims.
“My passion grew out of wanting to help other women because I walked in their shoes,” said Thomas who herself survived spousal abuse during three years of marriage.
According to Thomas, the Glenarden ministry has three components. First, it helps people find emergency shelters. Second is a referral process through which the ministry helps people make their way through judicial and civil court system. Third is a restoration piece that involves holding conferences, workshops, and support groups for victims to empower them to rebuild their lives.
The Red Flag Conference is a part of the third piece and was designed to educate men, women, and teens about the warning signs of dangerous and unhealthy relationships, addressing issues of sexual abuse, and post-traumatic adjustment to normal life.
This time the Red Flag has partnered with Community Resources, Department of Family Services, Family Crisis Center and Prince George’s Zonta Club which advances the status of women worldwide.
The conference brought together a variety of speakers from around the country. They shared their personal stories with the audience as well as imparted information about human trafficking and actions that law enforcement and the judicial system has implemented.
“If you look at the statistics, you will see that one in four girls and one in six boys become the victims of sexual abuse or assault. That means every person knows somebody affected,” said Angela Rose, founder of not-for-profit organization PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment.
At the age of 17, Rose was abducted and assaulted outside a shopping mall in Chicago. Her story was profiled on the Bio Channel’s show “I survived.”
Rose said she was one of those ten percent who were lucky to make it out alive.
“I was able to transfer my anger into activism,” said Rose who worked with rape survivors from Uganda and delivered messages of empowerment to college campuses, high schools, corporations, military groups, and women’s organizations.
Leslie Vernick started to deal with children sexually abused by their parents, baby-sitters, and youth pastors during her clinical practice. Vernick is a licensed counselor, relationship coach, and author of seven books, three of which have to do with destructive relationships. She said that the biggest challenge victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking face is soul destruction.
“It hinders growth, your ability to be yourself. After being a repeated object of abuse, your dignity is destroyed, your humanity is destroyed. It’s not just injury to their body, it’s injury to their soul,” said Vernick.
State Senator, Joanne Benson, was speaking of human trafficking. Benson is the only female senator serving the 24th legislative district. She said the fact that the conference targeted women and children was critical.
“It’s a serious problem alongside domestic violence and human trafficking.”
U.S. Department of Justice defines the crime of human trafficking as slavery.
“It is the sexual exploitation of children for commercial purposes; it is compelling people to labor or provide services through force, fraud, or coercion, whether citizens, legal residents, or persons having entered the country illegally,” says the official statement of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“What strikes me as a person and legislator is that we’re so much concerned about protecting our borders from illegal immigrants. We’ve got everybody on the borders,” said Benson. “But we somehow cannot stop influx of persons subjected to human trafficking. And I’m not talking about a thousand people. I’m talking about between 600,000 and 800,000 people participating in human trafficking who are brought across the borders into the country and exploited for force labor and commercial sex.”
Benson also cited latest statistics from the United Nations Information Office on Drugs and Crime, which reported that percentage of children victims of human trafficking has risen from 20 percent to 27 percent nationally. Out of 20.9 million worldwide, about 1.5 million people victims of human trafficking were in the U.S.
Benson added that in Maryland areas of particular concern include Baltimore and northern part of Prince George’s County. To address human trafficking crimes steadily growing in the state for over the past five years, Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTT), led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Maryland, was formed in 2007.
Benson said that, however, proper handling of human trafficking as a crime is impeded by the fact that law enforcement officers mostly arrest prostitute victims rather than targeting those who coerce women into sex labor. She said that clear understanding of distinction between human trafficking and prostitution was needed.
“That’s why it’s so important for more women to go to Annapolis to facilitate such important legislation that specifically impacts women which, for some reason, is difficult to get through,” said Benson.