When I was pregnant with my first baby, I struggled with such severe anxiety that I quit watching local and national news. As my kids grew, so did the number of predators and conspiracies I seemingly needed to protect them from. This article in the Wichita Eagle a few years ago opened my eyes to Wichita’s involvement in human trafficking. My heart was broken. I was disgusted. And my inner mama bear leapt into full-on Honey Badger Mode.
Human Trafficking in Wichita
According to that article in the Wichita Eagle, “Wichita sits near the crossroads of the nation’s sex-trafficking highway. ‘The pimps have routes they travel…and they include I-35 and I-70…Police have documented known pimps recruiting girls as young as 12 from Wichita and selling them for sex across the nation.’ “
– Police Officer Kent Bauman of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit
Boys and girls are most commonly recruited between the ages of 11-13, and often shipped elsewhere as the victims of modern-day slave trade.
I had visions of children being plucked from playgrounds and thrown into unmarked vans dancing through my head – and while that’s not impossible, that’s not really the way trafficking works. I went in search of more information: How does this happen? Who is at risk? And most importantly, What can we do to stop this?
Who Is At Risk?
Your children are more likely to be abused or exploited at the hands of a trusted family member or friend than snatched for the purpose of human trafficking.
That’s a fact.
Face masks during a pandemic, cabinets for sale on Wayfair, and creepy dudes in the Target parking lot are easy social media scapegoats, but the reality is that human trafficking does not work that way the majority of the time.
Children who are “invisible” or do not have a secure support system are the ones who can fall through the cracks. The ones who are neglected or abused at home, who think that any form of escape offered is better than the life in which they are trapped are the easiest to exploit (especially during a global pandemic when unsupervised screen time is at a high and regular contact with teachers, social workers, and other professional is at a low). They often end up in shelters or on the streets without any means of supporting themselves, and this is the danger zone.
They are easy prey for traffickers – and they don’t always look like those bruised, chained women that you see on social media. Human trafficking victims are not always immigrants. They are not always kidnapped children. They are not always involved in sex trade; sometimes they sell candy and magazines door-to-door. They are male and female. They are minors, and they are adults.
They don’t have the freedom to walk away, and they likely can’t ask for help.
How Can We Help?
It wasn’t long before I was following organizations like ICT S.O.S. and the WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking on Facebook. They are actively raising community awareness and offering training/education for adults and youth in Wichita and the surrounding areas, and have a wealth of information for parents who are concerned about human trafficking in Wichita and its impact on our city’s children.
So, as parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, and neighbors what can we do?
The answer is simpler than you think!
- Attend a training or seminar
- Participate in the ICT S.O.S. annual fundraising Race for Freedom 5k
- Assemble Fresh Start Bags for at-risk youth
- Donate to ICT S.O.S. financially
- Download the ICT S.O.S. app Android | iPhone
- Donate to the WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking
- Volunteer at the Wichita Children’s Home
- Help create awareness with the CCHT during Human Trafficking Awareness Month
- Support these other local organizations doing the hard work of prevention, advocacy, and restoration:
Advice from the Experts
As a mother, I can’t think of two words that horrify me more than “sex trafficking”, and I’m surely not alone. That’s why I asked local experts what they think are the most important things parents need to know when it comes to human trafficking awareness and prevention.
I’ll leave you with their thoughts, as well as some additional resources below:
What is one thing Wichita parents need to know about trafficking and/or the exploitation of children?
“I think the most important thing for parents to know is that it DOES happen here. And in every community. Wichita sits in close proximity to several major highways which makes access easy for traffickers moving victims around the country. We also tend to have a little bit of a false sense of security that, “Well, that only happens in cities like New York, Chicago or Houston… not here in the Midwest.” And because of that, we’re not talking to our kids about it as much as we should. Just like in other forms of abuse, traffickers target people with vulnerabilities that they can exploit. Sometimes that means approaching a homeless or runaway youth on the streets, and sometimes it means reaching out to a teen who is posting on Facebook about how they are lonely or they are fighting with their parents. Capt. Jeff Weible of the Wichita Police Department once made a comment that has always stuck with me, ‘Traffickers are some of the best child psychologists you’ll ever meet.'”
– Jennifer White, ICT S.O.S.
“Parents should know that human trafficking can and does happen to all types of people. Parents must have an open dialogue with their children about all aspects of their life. Talk to them about online safety, healthy relationships, issues with friends, classmates, etc. Remind them that they are loved and valued and can come to you with any issues they might be dealing with. Make them aware of resources like Safe Place and Opportunity Zone in our city that they can use or share with friends in need.”
– Bailey Patton Brackin, WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking
What is one way parents in Wichita can help fight human trafficking in our city?
“Prevention, prevention, and more prevention. Make sure your kids and the kids around you know they are loved and supported. Youth with a safety net of caring adults are much harder to exploit. Volunteer in your church youth group, be a mentor through Big Brothers/Big Sisters or another mentoring program, volunteer at and donate to organizations serving at-risk youth and families. Wichita has lots of great options! ICT S.O.S. is a great avenue to learn more about the work being done in our community and to connect with local agencies serving trafficked and at-risk youth. “– Jennifer White, ICT S.O.S.
“Invest in young people! Prevention of human trafficking truly begins here. Provide opportunities for youth to grow, develop and recognize their unique gifts and talents. There are a number of reputable youth mentoring organizations in Wichita who are in desperate need of devoted mentors. Check out Hope Ranch, Youth Horizons, YoungLives, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters and begin mentoring a youth who could be at risk.” – Bailey Patton Brackin, WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking
– Look for the Helpers Podcast by ICT S.O.S.
Make sure you never miss out: subscribe to our weekly Wichita Mom newsletter! Be the first to know about our exclusive events, special offers and discounts, neighborhood group activities and, of course, local resources
and parenting voices powered by local Wichita moms!