On Wednesday, April 4th, Geminus Family Services held their annual conference to raise awareness for child abuse and neglect issues during Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year’s topic was sex trafficking.
Organized by Geminus with support from the Indiana Department of Child Services, law enforcement officials, and other community organizations, “Stolen Innocence: A Conference on Sex Trafficking” aimed to raise awareness of sex trafficking taking place right here in Lake County. The event featured multiple speakers who shared the staggering statistics surrounding domestic sex trafficking as well as personal stories from victims.
Nicholas M. Neal, Director of Geminus, has been a part of this annual event for nine years. When it comes to sex trafficking, however, he recognizes that raising awareness can be particularly tricky.
“It’s for real,” Neal emphasized. “I think we believe that it happens in Thailand or China somewhere. It happens right here...It blows my mind, some of these stories people are telling me about sex trafficking, because I, too, [was] uneducated and didn’t want to think it was happening.”
Sex trafficking is indeed a difficult reality to face. It is one of those aspects of society that many find hard to believe, simply because they are not confronted with it on a daily basis. Nevertheless, it really is a problem that needs the public’s attention to find a solution.
For Ellis Dumas III, Regional Manager of the Lake County Department of Child Services, this cause hits close to home. Born and raised in Gary, Dumas has worked with the State of Indiana for 10 years and has served as regional manager for the last two years. He encouraged everyone to do what they can to report evidence of human trafficking to the DCS or law enforcement.
“Always report it,” he said. “Anybody who makes a report in good faith is immune from any criminal or civil prosecution...Some of the stories that they’re going to share today are people who, unfortunately, suffered from these traumatic experiences and it turned out great because somebody provided some hope.”
The keynote speaker for the morning was, in fact, a survivor and a victim herself. Heather “Heartflo” Maravilla grew up in Gary, Indiana where she was coerced into the sex industry upon her release from foster care at the age of 18. Through the recitation of poetry, a presentation of facts, and personal stories and videos, Maravilla exposed the truth of domestic sex trafficking.
“I am faceless for you will never see my soul,” she declared through poetry. “You only purchased my body, my heart you can’t control.”
She explained that many of these victims are looking for love and have come from extremely challenging family situations where even well-meaning parents did not have the tools necessary to provide the love and support that their child needed. What’s more, the way that media depicts human trafficking is not how it actually looks on a daily basis. Sex trafficked victims work in clubs and bars, and many of them do not have other options.
“I want to let you know that sex trafficking, human trafficking, it happens in all 50 states...it’s everywhere,” she explained. “One thing I’ve learned over the years is: a survivor perspective when working with victims of human trafficking, sex trafficking, is crucial. You have to have training. You have to have awareness. You have to have a foundation.”
That’s why events like these are so important. This is only one way that a community can obtain the tools necessary to help these victims and ensure that they are survivors.
“Come to some of our events. Donate to Geminus Community Partners,” Neal encouraged. “Our proceeds go to child abuse [prevention] efforts. If you have an organization that does work, spread the word that your services are out there...It’s really about educating yourself, awareness, and events like this.”
Geminus has two more events to address sex trafficking this month: the Wacky Wild Fun Run & Walk on April 21st and a Candlelight Vigil on 25th. To find out more about Geminus and how you can get involved, visit their website.