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Movie screenings help raise awareness about human trafficking

Movie screenings help raise awareness about human trafficking

‘Wake Up’ shared with educators, public in Topeka, Wichita

A student is forced to provide sexual favors to a family member in order to receive food.

A sixth-grade student is choked out by her eighth-grade boyfriend, who records the incident and shares it. Within a few days, the boy has offers from more than 30 men who are willing to pay to sexually assault the young girl.

A second-grade boy playing a video game is asked by an older man also playing the same game online to send nude photographs of himself.

An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Investigations leads to the rescue of 31 victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Of those rescued, 14 were missing children, the youngest was a 4-year-old child.

These true stories didn’t happen on the East or West Coast. Rather, they happened too close to home – in Kansas and Missouri.

“The bottom line is it happens in our cities, our towns, our own backyard,” said Lisa Lucchesi, human trafficking and criminal justice lead at CareSource, a Medicaid-managed care plan.

Lucchesi was one of several panelists who helped educate teachers, administrators and the general public about human trafficking at a screening of the movie “Wake Up” earlier this week at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and CareSource HealthAlliance partnered to bring the film to Kansas.

The first screening took place Monday, Aug. 14, at CAC Theater on the Wichita State University campus. About 85 people, including educators, attended the event, said Trish Backman, school mental health coordinator for KSDE.

The second showing took place at the library in Topeka, and 72 people attended.

Janet Craig, who wrote, directed, produced and acted in the film, attended both events. She was available for photographs before and after the screenings and also served as a panelist.

Craig’s dream to write, produce and direct “Wake Up” began 10 years ago with an invitation from her daughter’s high school teacher to attend a Forever Found fundraiser. Forever Found is a nonprofit organization that helps prevent human trafficking, along with rescuing and restoring victims of child trafficking.

“It was my daughter’s 16th birthday,” Craig recalled during an interview.

Craig’s daughter wanted to attend the fundraising event for her birthday, so the family attended together.

“I heard this amazing, articulate woman tell her story about being trafficked,” Craig said.

At that moment, Craig wanted to “bring the whole audience into that room” to hear the woman’s story.

So, she did.

“This movie is a way to have everyone in that room,” Craig said. “I want to show how it’s happening in our own backyard. We have 7-year-olds in our schools who are being trafficked. Predators are in the games talking to these kids. All it takes is one caring, compassionate adult to save a child or a victim. Education is power.”

Often, an educator can be crucial in helping to spot and stop human trafficking.

“Teachers are our frontline advocates,” Craig said.

Backman agreed.

“We need teachers to be that safe place,” she said. “Be a listening, compassionate, neutral ear.”

That’s why an educator's connection to students is so important.

“If you don’t have that connection, they aren’t going to tell you their story,” Backman said.

Age-appropriate education needs to happen at school and at home, she added.

“What you don’t see, you don’t know,” Backman said. “What happens in the evening can come into the school in the morning. They (students) just don’t use school computers. They are kids, they have phones. It’s not just what’s happening in schools. Are you educating your parents?”

Predators don’t always look like scary monsters.

“They are in grocery stores. They are online,” Backman said. “These are Kansans who are living right next to us.”

Educators and other school-based professionals play a critical role in recognizing potential human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. It isn’t uncommon for children to continue attending school while they are being trafficked.

“The school setting can provide an opportunity to interact with a potential victim without a controller present,” according to “Educators and Human Trafficking: In Depth Review.”

Educators should exercise caution when dealing with a human trafficking situation to minimize the risk of harm to the potential victim and to themselves. Follow all school policies and procedures and mandatory reporting laws pertaining to a minor.

Trafficking victims can experience severe physical, emotional and psychological trauma that can impact the learning experience. These symptoms may manifest as depression, anxiety, difficulty learning, aggression and truancy, according to https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/.

Disruptive behavior or sudden changes in academic performance should be considered a red flag. If a student has risk factors for trafficking, a specially trained school counselor or licensed clinical social worker can help protect the student from further harm and report the situation as required by state law.

The Kansas Technical Assistance System Network’s (TASN) School Mental Health Initiative webpage offers resources on trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network also offers mental health best practices implementation guidance for states, districts and schools at https://mhttcnetwork.org/centers/global-mhttc/national-school-mental-health-best-practices.

The National Trafficking Hotline received 274 “signals” about human trafficking from Kansas in 2021. Signals are reports made through hotline calls, emails, web chats and texts. Sixty-eight of those received signals were from victims or survivors of human trafficking, according to humantraffickinghotline.org. Eighty-five cases were identified in Kansas through those signals in 2021, affecting 138 victims. Cases can have multiple victims.

“The youth, particularly girls, are among the most vulnerable to human trafficking,” the National Trafficking Hotline website states. “Often, traffickers target them due to their age and naivety, which makes them easy to manipulate. As a youth, traffickers will entice you with promises like a good life before they exploit you for sexual advances. A United Nations study backs this data by indicating that women and girls constitute over 51% of human trafficking victims.”

Recruitment locations include schools, libraries, shelters, parks, juvenile detention centers, bus stops, abandoned buildings, malls and parties, according to the Stop Trafficking Project website.

Russ Tuttle, president and founder of the Stop Trafficking Project, served as a panelist during the two movie screenings. The project offers awareness and prevention strategies for human trafficking through education and empowerment of students and encouragement to adults to take effective and empathetic action.

Tuttle travels to schools throughout Kansas and Missouri to offer age-appropriate education to students.

“We go in and appeal to the heroes in students,” he told audience members at the Topeka movie screening. “We want to end it before it starts.”

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office in 2010 established the Human Trafficking Advisory Board with a goal of exploring the issue within Kansas. In 2013, lawmakers formally established the board within statute, recognizing it as the state’s official Human Trafficking Advisory Board.

Members include law enforcement, prosecutors, court personnel, advocates, human trafficking victims, medical personnel and other experts in the field.

More information about the board and other efforts to end human trafficking in Kansas can be found at ag.ks.gov/public-safety/human-trafficking.

If you see something, call 911, your local law enforcement agency or The National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888.

Meghan Connors, who was a victim of human trafficking for three decades, also attended the Topeka screening event and shared a portion of her story as a panelist. Connors has post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health challenges and illnesses caused by the trauma she suffered.

“I’m living in a traumatized body,” she said.

KSDE’s Backman told the audience members at the Topeka screening that Connors was a success story. After sharing, Connors said she is still in the process of becoming a success story.

“I didn’t need anyone to rescue me,” Connors said. “I needed someone to receive me.”


‘Wake Up’

“Wake Up” is inspired by true stories. The movie is about a community shaken when children go missing and darkness is exposed, hiding in plain sight.

The movie has received the following awards:

  • 2022 Most Impactful Film, Sedona International Film Festival.
  • 2021 Best Feature Film, Sunscreen West.
  • 2021 Best Dramatic Performance, Sunscreen West.

The movie was a contender for the Golden Globe, Oscars and NAACP awards.

In order to help educate a wider audience about human trafficking, Janet Craig, writer, producer and director of “Wake Up,” is offering exclusive rentals from Aug. 17-24. For $5.99, people can have access across all devices to the movie for three days. Craig’s mission to combat trafficking is ongoing. Her hope is to raise $300,000 through the weeklong showings so she can pay to have “Wake Up” shown in 100 theaters nationwide in 2024. It takes that much money just to secure theaters where the movie can be shown, she said.

Craig wants to kick off the screenings in January 2024 because January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

For more information, visit https://www.officialwakeupmovie.com/watch.

To watch the trailer for “Wake Up,” which is rated R because of brief drug use and some violence, can be accessed at https://www.officialwakeupmovie.com/.

Additional Information

Human trafficking is a crime that involves force, fraud or coercion of a person to provide labor or services or to engage in commercial sex acts. Those most at risk include justice-involved youth; youth in child welfare; youth and adults with substance abuse disorder and serious mental illness; and individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

  • Physical indicators of a human trafficking victim include malnourishment; substance misuse; poor hygiene; exhaustion; long-term trauma, including bruises or other injuries in various stages of healing; a high number of sexual partners; multiple sexually transmitted diseases; multiple pregnancies; and signs of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Behavioral indicators of a human trafficking victim include acting overly nervous or fearful; providing scripted or rehearsed responses; being disoriented to time, date or location; displaying signs of depression or trauma; and minimizing or being unwilling to answer questions about abuse, injury or illness.

- From CareSource

Posted: Aug 17, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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