Children's Lantern was the topic for the March program of the Defiance branch of AAUW. Presenter Alyssa Tracy, a co-director of the local group, reviewed their goals of raising awareness of sex trafficking and fund raising to help in areas such as funding adoptions, feeding kids, foster care and freeing sex slaves.
Trafficking, whether sexual or manual labor, is defined as forcing someone under control by force, coercion or fraud which gives the forcing party benefit or profit from the victim's labor or service. The benefit does not need to be monetary.
The state of Ohio ranks 4th in the nation and Toledo is the 4th largest city for participation in the sex trade. Their proximity to Canada and rural areas are two factors that make northwestern Ohio a profitable location for traffickers.
Children's Lantern is involved in increasing public awareness through the placing of posters informing victims of help which is available to them. The posters include a national hotline number which is 888-373-7888. The signs also encourage people to report suspicious activity such as girls who are inappropriately dressed getting out of cars and getting into trucks.
Many times, girls and young women need to be made aware of available help three or more times before they are willing to seek help. Frequently they are told by their handlers that they are damaged and no one could love them. Younger girls may be overwhelmed by their experiences and feel they have nothing to talk about with others their age who they view as "normal."
When they have sought refuge, they need a variety of services: legal help involving custody, civil services, prosecution and clearing criminal records. Counseling and rehab services can be extensive and long term. They also need basic life skills as well as the essential clothing and personal needs.
Housing is also a challenge, in this area especially, although inroads are being made. Nationwide there are only slightly more than 600 beds available for sex traffic victims in special rehab facilities. Children's Lantern is supportive of "The Daughter Project" in the Toledo-Perrysburg, area which is working on providing beds and assistance for girls and young women.
It has also been found that mentoring at schools can be a trafficking prevention tool. Volunteers who work with the same child for several years may be able to spot subtle changes in a child's behavior or dress which could be signs of stress.
Defiance City Schools currently have a mentoring program for the whole county. Contact can be made by calling Cathy Davis at 419-782-0070. The next training is scheduled for March 18.
Tracy emphasized that 100 percent of their fundraising goes to children in need both locally and in other countries. One of their projects is a "drawstring backpack drive" which provides needed essentials for foster children.
The organization is also proud of having packaged over 130,000 meals during the last two years which helped feed hundreds of families in the U.S. and five other countries.
In the field of foster care they have been instrumental in providing new clothes, toys and services and have helped expand the number of families willing to provide foster care. Through their fundraising efforts, they help fund private domestic and international adoptions through special grants and the broadening of a support system for the parents.
Children's Lantern is sponsoring a Trafficking Awareness Conference at Defiance College on May 17.
Those wanting more information on Children's Lantern can visit the website: www.childrenslantern.org or the local group's Facebook page. Tracy can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next meeting of AAUW is April 7, in the Hubbard Room of the Serrick Center at Defiance College at 7 p.m. Dr. Mary Ellen Benedict of BGSU will be talking about pay equity. While women have come a long way, they still have a way to go to catch up with their male counterparts.
All AAUW meetings are open to the public and visitors are welcomed.