WMU leads in advocating for children victimized by trafficking - Word&Way

WMU leads in advocating for children victimized by trafficking

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—The sticker in the hotel window reassured the visitor—this business would help protect children from predators while they and their parents are guests.

"The Child Safe Zone," a project of Georgia Woman's Missionary Union and Women's Enrichment Ministry, is a result of national WMU's Project HELP: Human Exploitation emphasis. Launched in 2010, it focuses on six aspects of exploitation, including trafficking for sex and labor.

Touched by what they learned, leaders in Georgia asked themselves, "How are we giving women handles?" explained Beth Ann Williams, adult missions consultant for Georgia WMU and Women's Enrichment Ministry. "How can we give her something she can actually do?"

Women connected first with a refugee sewing society in Atlanta. Working with the group, the women helped develop a bracelet as a prayer reminder, with the profits benefiting Wellspring Living, a residential facility for women victims of trafficking.

Last February, Baptist women joined other groups across the state to participate in Lobby Day at the Georgia capitol to advocate for a strong measure against exploitation of children. The bill passed, and the women will participate in this year's Lobby Day to keep funding at its current level.

Georgia WMU and women's ministry already had built a reputation for partnering with community groups and had been working with others on the child trafficking problem. "Some partners in education and advocacy saw a gap in the hotel industry. … The partners recognized WMU as an advocate across the state and asked us to join them," Williams said.

WMU partnered with two groups to develop "The Child Safe Zone" and put together a kit for women to present to hotel owners and managers. It includes a letter from a Georgia hotel manager and information about the problem, including how to identify a victim.

The first training was held in September for 80 women and men from across Georgia. "The momentum is still building," Williams said. "There are quite a few established organizations (across Georgia) to eradicate trafficking of children."

As volunteers approach hotel management, they also ask for an opportunity to make a presentation to staff to teach them more about how to identify victims. Some hotels have been visited, she added, with several now on board with the project.

In place for about 17 years, Project HELP provides education about a particular social justice issue every two years and suggests actions that mission participants at all age levels can do. A team of state leaders and national executive board members—called the Missions Cast group—determine topics to be addressed. "Generally, they choose issues that rise up in people's minds," explained Sheryl Churchill, churchwide consultant.

Meeting in November 2008, the group asked for human trafficking to be the focus. "They were reminded of the preschoolers and children," Churchill said, adding the topic by itself would have been difficult to explain and to develop activities for young age groups.

Planners broadened the approach to include trafficking, bullying, use of natural resources for personal gain, media exploitation of the family, pornography and sexting.

"All these issues had started rising up in the media—the Gulf oil spill and the death of Phoebe Prince (a high school freshman who committed suicide as a result of cyber-bullying)—that affirmed what we chose," Churchill said.

A CD titled Release and Restore by WMU and Not in My Town by New Hope Publishers, WMU's publishing arm, are key resources for adults.

"We tried to provide a scriptural foundation … addressing disregard for others and the importance of prayer," she said. "Any time … you go where Satan doesn't want you, he will put up all kinds of barriers. … We tried to prepare people by showing them not to be discouraged."

Last year, the national WMU executive board voted to extend the emphasis on human exploitation issues through 2014. Additional resources will be released in 2013.

In addition, WMU sells crafts made by artisan groups, particularly women, around the globe. One campaign, Set One Free, highlights the artisan projects that work to help free women caught in trafficking and sexual exploitation.