By Meghan Hendrickson
Hundreds of Baylor students and faculty, city officials and adults joined together for one purpose Sunday night: to combat sex trafficking in Waco and beyond.
UnBound, a new anti-human trafficking organization, launched publicly during its first education and prayer meeting at Antioch Community Church on Sunday night. Although UnBound is an initiative that originated with Antioch, volunteers are not limited to the local church body.
Elizabeth Griffin, UnBound director of outreach, said anyone who wants to be involved in helping to bring an end to sex slavery in Waco and throughout the world is welcome to volunteer.
The meeting kicked off with an introduction to UnBound by Susan Peters, a pastor of Antioch and a member of UnBound’s leadership team. Peters said UnBound’s mission is to open people’s eyes to the reality of human trafficking — both on the local and international scale — and organize efforts to combat the issue head-on.
Orlando, Fla., senior Claire Berlinsky helped lead worship at the event and said she is committing to serve through UnBound in any way the Lord calls her to, whether that is through raising awareness or serving in more hands-on and practical ways.
“My greatest hope for UnBound is to see people saved,” Berlinsky said, “to put faces on statistics and to see, in a practical way, that God can move and prayers have weight.” UnBound has developed six main ways for volunteers to get involved in the fight against sex trafficking:
• Working with the Waco Police Department through its victim services group
• Matching missing person files to victims marketed online via organized research
• Participating in prayer groups and prayer drives
• Advocating in social media and social networks
• Participating in community outreaches and activities
• Helping with UnBound’s administrative activities
Baylor social work professor Jennifer Smyer, director of global mission leadership, gave an educational presentation about sex trafficking at the meeting.
Smyer received her master’s degree from Baylor with a focus on human trafficking and the church’s response to it. Smyer said she has hope in the face of something so painful because she believes in the power of God.
According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking includes “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining [of victims] through force, fraud or coercion for sexual exploitation.”
Smyer said just one of these elements of sex trafficking has to be present for a situation to be considered “trafficking.”
The theme for Smyer’s presentation was “Eyes Wide Open.” Smyer said evidence of human trafficking is easy to miss when people are not looking for it. “Let it be said of us that we are ones that have our eyes wide open just as he [God] does.”
Smyer said it is important for people to be educated about sex trafficking so they might educate others — perhaps those who are vulnerable to falling prey to sex trafficking.
The vulnerable include, but are not limited to, victims of childhood sexual abuse, runaways and homeless youth, Smyer said.
The average age of those entering prostitution in America is 13.5 years old, Smyer said, but anyone engaging in prostitution, pornography or stripping under the age of 18 is legally considered a “trafficked” individual.
To bring the issue closer to home, Smyer said one-quarter of trafficked victims in the U.S. end up in Texas at some point, and 74 percent of the prostitution and porn industry in Texas is composed of trafficked victims. Peters then shared a story to open attendees’ eyes to the reality of sex trafficking in Waco.
“Just a few weeks ago, my brother-in-law was approached by a young woman on 17th Street at a food place,” Peters said. “She seemed drugged and asked if he would jump her car because the battery was dead. As he went outside, a man in her car told him the girl was ‘for rent.’ He is a trafficker.” Under federal law, a trafficker is anyone willing to exploit another human being for profit, Peters said.
Though sex trafficking is a dark subject, Peters said she has high hopes for Christians who “face the darkness head-on.”
“We too will glow with God’s presence and penetrate and demolish this dark industry in our day,” Peters said.
UnBound is developing an unofficial college task force with 12 students already committing to raise awareness and host events at Baylor. The task force held its first unofficial meeting last week.
Dallas junior Natalie Garnett is a member of the college task force and said she enjoyed meeting with the developing group of Baylor students last week. “Finally, there’s this unified movement we can jump into and bring all our ideas together, use them and make them happen,” Garnett said.
Garnett said UnBound presents Baylor students unique opportunities to get involved in fighting sex trafficking in the Waco community.
“We’re living in Waco and there’s trafficking around us,” Garnett said. “We’re living in a place where trafficking is happening, and that’s not o-kay.”
UnBound plans to hold quarterly meetings. Those interested can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the organization on Twitter. Smyer also encouraged people to keep their eyes open and report suspicious activity to the trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.