Woodward, Okla. —
Human trafficking isn’t just a foreign problem. It happens in the United States and even in Oklahoma.
That was the message of a “Human Trafficking Awareness” seminar taught by Mark Elam, director of the Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans (OATH) Coalition, at High Plains Technology Center Monday.
More than 40 local law enforcement officers and social workers attended the seminar, which was hosted by Living Word Fellowship. While the majority of attendees represented Woodward agencies including Northwest Domestic Crisis Services, Western Plains Youth and Family Services, and Northwest CASA, a couple of officers from Buffalo Police Department and the Harper County Sheriff’s Office also attended the event.
OKLAHOMA: A TRAFFICKING “CROSSROADS”
“You think of human trafficking and you think of Asia and foreign countries, but it’s happening here in America,” said seminar attendee Pepper Cook, with Northwest Domestic Crisis Services.
In fact, Cook said she was surprised to learn how big of a part Oklahoma is playing in the human trafficking situation in the United States.
She said Elam told the class Monday that the intersection of Interstate 35 and Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City is a “huge pipeline” for traffickers in this region.
“The interstates is where they do a lot of trafficking,” she said.
According to information distributed by Elam in a special edition of the magazine “Oklahoma County Vital Signs,” one of the biggest human trafficking cases prosecuted to date ended up “rescu(ing) 13 Oklahoma children ages 12 and up in 2004 from a prostitution ring operating at Oklahoma City truck stops.”
Betty Gibson, with Opportunities, Inc. out of Watonga, was another student in Monday’s OATH seminar. Like Cook, she too was surprised to learn that our state is “kind of a crossroads for human trafficking.”
“I was surprised to learn so much of it is going on in Oklahoma,” Gibson said. “I just didn’t think about Oklahoma being a place where that would be prevalent.”