A local church is helping to tackle human trafficking in Wichita through an annual concert and awareness event, set for Friday in downtown Wichita.
This year’s “Rock the Market” is the third hosted by GracePoint Church – and the second that will raise money to benefit ICT S.O.S. The grassroots group provides support to organizations that help victims of human trafficking break away from the trade and connects community members with volunteer opportunities.
The free event runs from 6-10 p.m. in Old Town Square, at First and Mosley. The night features music from three country bands – Turnback Creek, The Jason Boyd Band and Against the Grain – as well as doubling as a collection drive for items needed by trafficking victims.
Human trafficking includes selling, trading or transporting people for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation. Both U.S. citizens and immigrants fall victim.
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Many caught on the sex side are children who have been bullied or abused or have run away; their average age is 12 to 13, according to information from the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. Traffickers often find them on the streets or through the Internet and social media.
“We just want to say, ‘Not in our city,’ ” GracePoint executive pastor Terry Johnson said of human trafficking.
“(It) is literally an issue that can’t be ignored. Especially when it’s happening in our own back yard. Jesus said he came to set the captives free. And we are here to do the same thing.”
ICT S.O.S. founder Jennifer White agreed.
“It’s really a great conversation starter,” she said of Friday’s awareness event.
“We know that people are stirred by this issue, and they want to help with it.”
Supplies to be collected at Rock the Market include shampoo, conditioner, body wash, feminine hygiene products, men’s and women’s socks and undergarments, and plain, dark-colored sweat pants and hooded sweatshirts. Cash donations are welcome, and ICT S.O.S. T-shirts and wrist bands will be for sale.
ICT S.O.S. will turn over proceeds from Friday’s event to the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, which is working with other local organizations to combine services into a one-stop shop for child abuse victims.
Center executive director Diana Schunn said that while human trafficking is one of the smallest sectors of abuse the center sees – responding to fewer than 10 cases annually – it remains a “serious situation.”
“Without a doubt, human trafficking is one of the ways we see children at risk,” she said.
Nature of crimes
Large-scale, international trafficking rings do exist. But in Sedgwick County, the crimes are typically smaller operations.
“One guy – one pimp – with one or maybe two girls,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett explained. “Maybe a local guy with a local girl, maybe an out-of-town pimp with local girls” or boys.
“(It’s) not a well-organized machine.”
Since 2006, more than 30 human trafficking cases have been filed in Sedgwick County, Bennett said. Local law enforcement work more cases than what are charged in court, he added, because sometimes the victims don’t know their pimps’ names or where to find them.
The number of cases investigated in Wichita wasn’t immediately available from police on Thursday.
So far this year, six people have been booked into Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of human trafficking, a database of booking reports compiled by The Eagle shows.
In the latest case, charged in July in Sedgwick County District Court, 26-year-old Daniel Tucker and 23-year-old Shawtaya Shaffer were accused of offering two girls, ages 16 and 17, for sex. They were staying at a hotel on North Broadway. One girl was a runaway from out of state, according to an Eagle report from July; the other was returned to a parent following the arrests.
Wichita’s proximity to I-35, I-70 and other major interstate thoroughfares may contribute to local human trafficking, Bennett said.
He said it’s often a watchful bystander or shop owner who alerts authorities to possible human trafficking situations – a goal sought by Friday’s Rock the Market public awareness event.
“We find them typically because someone paid attention: a girl walking that was too young, a girl that was too young going into a hotel room … and an older man pulling up later,” Bennett said of sex trafficking victims.
“All it takes is one person making a call.”