Mayors all over Alabama are stepping up to fight human trafficking. Julia Meyers, Junior League Birmingham (JLB) chairwoman of the Anti-human Trafficking Committee, has been working tirelessly with the state legislative Human Trafficking Task Force in order to get regional government officials to proclaim January human trafficking awareness month.
Mayors of Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Hoover have all signed proclamations.
“I reached out to 18 mayors in Jefferson County and immediately Over the Mountain mayors responded,” Meyers told the Over the Mountain Journal. “That, for me, was very exciting. In the areas where we think this problem isn’t going on, they are actually taking action.”
“I’d like our city to know that Vestavia Hills Police Department actively participates in a task force with some of my old colleagues from my FBI days in addressing this issue,” said Vestavia Hills mayor, Ashley Curry. “We’re doing what we can and just ask that everybody look out for certain signs … if you see something that you don’t think is right, give us a call.”
The city of Cullman, Ala. has also stepped up to the task with Mayor Woody Jacobs not only proclaiming January as human trafficking awareness month, but establishing January 11 as a Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
“Human trafficking is a problem everywhere, even here in our community. I greatly respect the work that the Task Force has done and continues to do to help prevent this terrible crime in Cullman and Cullman County.”
Newly elected Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin also joined Meyers in declaring January as human trafficking awareness month, as evidenced in this tweet by the Junior League of Birmingham:
Junior League of Birmingham(JLB) President, Katy Roe Eldridge, and JLB Anti-Human Trafficking Chair, Julia Meyers, join Mayor Randall Woodfin as he and City Council proclaim January as “Human Trafficking Awareness Month”. Thank you for supporting JLB in this effort! pic.twitter.com/bBRq1GvkG2
— Jr. League of Bham (@JLBirmingham) January 10, 2018
“Junior League of Birmingham(JLB) President, Katy Roe Eldridge, and JLB Anti-Human Trafficking Chair, Julia Meyers, join Mayor Randall Woodfin as he and City Council proclaim January as “Human Trafficking Awareness Month”. Thank you for supporting JLB in this effort!”
Birmingham is an important participant in human trafficking awareness month because of it’s closeness to the issue. Interstate I-20 between Atlanta and Birmingham is known as the Sex Trafficking Superhighway. “It cuts right there through downtown Birmingham, and what we’re finding, unfortunately with the interstate system that you and I use to get from Birmingham to Montgomery — is that people are using it to bring in girls, for example, for a short period of time. Buyers are available, and then they leave,” said David Pinkleton, fundraising chair for the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.
Other Alabama officials have responded to the Task Force’s urges. Sen. Cam Ward introduced SB179 on Tuesday to increase the criminal punishment for those found guilty of obstruction or enforcement of current human trafficking laws.
Gov. Kay Ivey is also expected to sign a proclamation later this month in observance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
In addition to the proclamations, Meyers is promoting the Rescue Innocence Project Gala, a fundraiser for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. The event features guest speaker Ed Smart whose daughter was abducted in 2002 and miraculously returned to her family after nine grueling months. Smart and his daughter Elizabeth are now active voices in the fight against sexual exploitation.
Although Alabama has it’s own human trafficking task force, new laws to punish those who would sexually exploit children, and lawmakers who are willing to step up and make a difference; Alabama only scores an 83.5 on the Shared Hope International report card.
According to the report; “A juvenile sex trafficking victim will be identified as dependent or as a child in need of supervision rather than as delinquent, but Alabama law does not provide a statutory avenue to specialized services.”
Under the Safe Harbor law, which passed in Alabama in 2016, minors who are arrested for prostitution are not sent to juvenile detention centers or convicted of prostitution. But therein lies the problem; the state of Alabama has no where else to put them.
Minors are currently sent back into the situations that sent them there in the first place, or turned over to DHR.
“They were denied education and have no skills. They don’t even have family to turn to.” Meyers told the Over the Mountain Journal.
This is a problem Meyers and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation hopes to solve. By providing training, specialized staff, and intake facilities for minors who are victims of human trafficking; Alabama would finally have somewhere to send victims in desperate need of care.
Funds collected from the Gala will go towards providing these facilities in Alabama and states around the nation.