Words by Jenny Lynn Davis | Images by Justin Hunter
The Child Trafficking Solutions Project (CTSP) joined forces with the Walker County Children’s Policy Council and the Walker Area Community Foundation to host an informative lunch-and-learn event on August 16. The event at Wade Hall on Bevill State Community College’s Jasper campus aimed to educate the community about child trafficking and the importance of collaborative partnerships in addressing this critical issue.
The event served as an intensive crash course, introducing attendees to CTSP’s mission and highlighting the organization’s intention to establish strong partnerships within Walker County. Additionally, the event provided attendees with a comprehensive overview of the harrowing issue of child trafficking and practical strategies to respond to this pressing concern.
CTSP, a collaborative initiative that addresses child trafficking, focuses on education, empowerment, and community mobilization. The initiative offers tailored training programs to equip individuals with the tools to combat child trafficking, fosters collaborative responses between agencies, and establishes strategic protocols. Furthermore, CTSP supports survivors, including assessments, housing, mental health care, medical aid, education, and legal guidance. The initiative’s remarkable impact encompasses the declaration of 31 Trafficking Free Zones, law enforcement training, policy influence, and a vision of a future free from child exploitation. CTSP operates under the umbrella of the Children’s Aid Society of Alabama, channeling collective efforts toward creating a safer and more secure environment for children across the state.
In a previous conversation with The Walker Leader, CTSP’s co-founder, Jan Bell, emphasized the significance of partnerships within Walker County, stating, “We have super partners throughout Walker County like the Children’s Policy Council, Walker Area Community Foundation, DHR, DA Office, Juvenile Court, Children’s Advocacy Center, and community volunteers. All of these agencies in Walker County are committed to, invested in, and will be continuously working on staying engaged with the community and broadening the approach to attacking the issue of child trafficking.”
The event featured a presentation by Crystal Gregory, a Jasper native and a professional with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations. Gregory’s vast experience includes travel to over 40 countries to train others on human trafficking concepts, leading cases in more than 20 countries, and conducting forensic interviews for over 5000 victims, a significant portion of whom are children. She was also instrumental in developing a forensic interview program within the Department of Homeland Security.
Gregory’s presentation covered crucial topics, such as the definition of human trafficking, distinctions between sex trafficking, drug trafficking, and labor trafficking, differences between child trafficking and child abuse investigations, and ways to identify victims through subtle and apparent signs. The presentation also delved into vulnerable categories of individuals, the significance of proper language and tone for gathering information, and the impact of trauma on a victim’s ability to convey information.
Additionally, Gregory discussed the geographical aspects of human trafficking, highlighting how Alabama is impacted due to its location at the crossroads of numerous interstate corridors. Gregory cited that trafficking is a substantial industry in Alabama, with an estimated value of $110 million, and she underlined the unsettling fact that traffickers often profit more from exploiting children than adults.
“We want today to serve as a starting conversation to open everyone’s eyes a bit more to the reality of how much child trafficking actually happens here and how we can all work together, local agencies, Homeland Security, and CTSP, to create a multidisciplinary team that understands each other’s role in response to child trafficking,” Gregory said. “We would love to use Walker County as a model that could potentially be mirrored across the state, of getting every person that has contact with kids trained on all the aspects imperative to having a unified response to child trafficking.” WL