Church shines spotlight on local human trafficking

Camas Nazarene will host free community seminar on Sunday, Oct. 1

If you go

A free seminar on human trafficking, with local experts, will be held at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Camas Church of the Nazarene, located at 2204 N.E. Birch St.

Towns like Camas and Washougal — and the children who live here — are probably not the first thing people think about when they hear the startling statistics related to human trafficking in the United States. But make no mistake, says Lesa Sims, a retired youth pastor from the Camas Church of the Nazarene, small-town Clark County is not immune from the realities of modern-day slavery.

“Many people think this isn’t our problem, that it’s not happening here, because we’re in a small town,” Sims says. “But I’m sure it is happening here. In fact, a lot of times traffickers target small towns because people aren’t as aware, they’re not looking for them here.”

What’s more, says Sims, whose church is leading an upcoming workshop to educate local residents about human trafficking, people need to ditch their stereotypes about those who fall victim to sexual and labor exploitation.

“People tend to think it’s just uneducated people or immigrants, but this can happen to anyone,” Sims says. “This happens to people who are extremely well-educated. It happens to people who are looking for a job, or moving.”

And, Sims says, although there are definitely more high-risk categories for potential sex trafficking victims — including youth in the foster care system and teen runaways — it is not uncommon to hear about children from “good homes” falling prey to human traffickers.

“Any child who uses the Internet and has contact with strangers can be tricked into sex trafficking,” Sims says. “We used to talk about ‘stranger danger’ with our kids, but most of the ‘stranger danger’ these days is online. They could be communicating with anybody on the Internet.”

According to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, our state is “a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation and sale of people for labor” because of Washington’s proximity to the international border in Canada, the number of ports, vast swaths of rural areas where traffickers can more easily hide their victims, and a statewide dependency on agricultural workers, who are more likely to be ensnared in human trafficking scams.

The vast majority of people caught up in human trafficking are women and children.

The U.S. State Department estimates that of the 600,000 to 800,000 human trafficking victims coming across international borders into the United States each year, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children.

The Church of the Nazarene leaders regularly choose humanitarian topics to focus their mission work on, and this quarter, they are focusing on preventing and eradicating human trafficking.

Since delving into this quarter’s mission focus, Sims says she’s learned just how prevalent human trafficking is in Washington State and Clark County.

“In Vancouver, the Clark County task force did a study and found that, in just three years, there were 58 (human trafficking victims) found in the juvenile court system here,” Sims says. “And those are just the ones they caught! And just in the juvenile court. Imagine how many more there are.”

On Sunday, Oct. 1, the local church will host a human trafficking seminar featuring representatives from the Clark County Human Trafficking Task Force.

“We see this as a way to help people identify that there is a problem, and that the problem does affect us in Clark County,” Sims says. “We will have information available to help families learn how to recognize the signs that someone might be a (victim of human trafficking) and how to protect their children, friends and neighbors.”

The free human trafficking seminar will be held at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Camas Church of the Nazarene, 2204 N.E. Birch St., Camas. Free child care will be available, but organizers would like to know how many children are expected ahead of the seminar.

To coordinate child care arrangements, or for more information, call 360-834-3433.

Sims says the seminar will be appropriate for most teenagers, and will help middle school and high school students be more aware of online dangers and understand how to recognize the warning signs of possible human trafficking within their own peer groups.