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Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce Coffee Contacts; Collaborative to End Human Trafficking Luncheon

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On Thursday, September 27th, we arose early and drive for nearly an an hour to attend an Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce "Coffee Contacts" that was held at "Grand River Academy" in Austinburg which is a privateboarding school for young men attending eighth grade through all of the way through high school.

While we were enjoying coffee and cupcakes, we were addressed by Ms. Kristen Kitchen and Mr. David Thomas, both school officials, who told us that this prestigious institution of learning was founded back in 1831 and currently serves the educational needs of 73 students from 20 states and 13 counties including Japan, Romania, Africa, China, Vietnam, India and Iran.

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Part of the reason that this school is so popular with international students is that it gives them the opportunity to get used to the culture of the United States before they attend college here and because the average teacher/student ratio is only 1 to 5 so there is plenty of opportunities for individualized instruction.

To be sure, Grand River Academy also closely partners with the nearby "SPIRE Institute" in Geneva which trains young international athletes and is home to "FLAG International" students (including young women) who reside there over the summer.

For the younger local children who don't otherwise attend classes there, Grand River Academy often offers them special programs that are scientific in origin but quite fun such as one that is coming up around Halloween time that will teach them about the brain's vulnerability to head injuries and why it must be protected from impending attacks from mummies and zombies.

 

That afternoon we manipulated the detours around West 25th Street to get to "Windows on the River" down in the Flats to attend the "Collaborative to End Human Trafficking" luncheon which celebrated its 10th year of existence going back to 2007 when seven religious communities of women decided to join forces in order "to educate and advocate for the prevention and abolition of human trafficking while connecting services on behalf of trafficked persons."

Throughout the luncheon, which had a record-breaking attendance, it was stated that it was great that so many people cared enough to take time out of the day to attend this function which is a good indication that awareness about this issue has been raised but there is still a lot of work to do.

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As stated by Ms. Karen Walsh, the President/CEO of the Collaborative, the only way to successfully address this issue is a multi-disciplinary approach that combines education, social services and law enforcement into a coordinated whole which is needed now more than ever because, despite undeniable progress in other areas, the use of the internet by human traffickers to carry out their trade has multiplied the dangers of sex and labor slavery many times over.

Along these lines, Judge Patricia A. Gaughan of the United States District Court of Northern Ohio talked of how U.S. Senator Rob Portman has introduced an important bill to address the issue of online trafficking. She also spoke of how hospitals, law enforcement, and other community organizations have had their awareness raised and are now cooperating to vigorously address this ongoing problem.

Two other excellent speakers were our friend, Judge Marilyn B. Cassidy of the Cleveland Municipal Court and our Mr. Justin E. Herdman, our new U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Ohio. It was Judge Cassidy who initiated the docket for victims of human trafficking from her very courtroom in 2014 in the form ofa two year program aimed at helping the victims put their lives back together again by making them aware of the various services available to them and, above all, establishing a unique sense of trust between these services, the court and the victims which the latter have rarely experienced in their own lives. Although Mr. Herdman pledged to do his utmost to prosecute the traffickers to the fullest extent of the law, he warned us that we are dealing with people who are very good at sensing a potential victim's vulnerability and exploiting it to their advantage. As such, those who suffer from chemical dependency are especially vulnerable since they will do anything necessary to obtain the quick fix that their bodies crave. To be sure, this is a societal problem so Mr. Herdman thus urged all of us to help to create a community where human trafficking will not be tolerated at all and to be on the lookout for activities that do not seem right to us and not be afraid to report them to law enforcement.  

Unsurprisingly, perhaps the most compelling speaker of the day was Ms. Theresa Flores, a human trafficking survivor and founder of "Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution" aka "S.O.A.P."who told of how she became a sex-trafficking victim at age 15 although she came from a very tightly-knit, economically sound religious family. Since her family moved around a lot due to her father's job, she was lonely and accepted a ride him from a young man she had a crush on who attended both her school and her church. They stopped off at his house where he gave her a soft drink laced with drugs and then raped her while his cohorts took photographs which were used to blackmail her into being a slave for two years until she was at last rescued. It wasn't until years later after she attended a human trafficking conference that she found the courage to speak out about what happened to her and use make use of her experiences to assist others. When her presentation was completed, Ms. Flores received a much-deserved standing ovation. 

As for ourselves, we are proud to say that "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" purchased a table for this event even though we gave away most of the seats. Thus, we got to sit with some very dedicated people like Mr. Patrick and Ms. Barbara Nugent who were very involved in a successful neighborhood watch type of endeavor which reduced in the area where they used to live by over 80%; Ms. Joann Wong, an intern with "Asian Services in Action" who is hard at work developing a ten week program about the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees that will be reach young people in high school as well as older community members; and Ms. Margaret Glenn and Ms. Marcia Palacios who work together on a S.O.A.P. project in the Medina area wherein they distribute to hotels/motels bars of soap that a sticker on the wrapping containing a human trafficking hotline number in order to offer a positive pathway to someone so desperately in need.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

 

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