Sex trafficking is a rapidly growing, very lucrative crime in our state. In fact, most trafficking victims were first exploited as children. A recent Loyola University New Orleans study of 10 U.S. cities found that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys receiving services at Covenant House in Anchorage reported being victims of sex trafficking. Transit centers, malls and gas stations are also prime recruiting spots for youths and young adults.
The vulnerabilities for a victim of trafficking include childhood sexual abuse, homelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, limited education and time in foster care. Add to that list unlimited private use of the internet. There is an alarming increase in trafficking victims recruited through social media and online gaming chat rooms. This medium has given predators unprecedented access to our youths. There is also an increase in gang trafficking in our state. When an arrest is made, the victims often are quickly picked up by other gang members, which makes recovery of a victim much more difficult.
On Sept. 29, Donna Walker will serve as honorary chair of Redefine Worth, a fundraising fashion show, dinner and art auction event on behalf of Priceless Alaska. Priceless, founded by Executive Director Gwen Adams, is dedicated to abolishing human trafficking and sexual slavery. It works directly with victims of sex trafficking to help them establish security and build new lives. Priceless networks all state and national resources to bring awareness, prevention and intervention. Many victims have turned their lives around with the loving support of the Priceless mentoring team. They have acquired housing, job skills, employment and counseling as they take big steps forward.
Priceless has also opened a transitional living home for survivors, the Compassion House Safe House in Anchorage, which has been at capacity this year. Survivors can stay in the Compassion House for approximately one year after they have stabilized with a job and good support services in place. Many women are finding help and hope as they take the first few steps to freedom.
Priceless also started an outreach team this year that actively goes to the places where recruitment into trafficking is likely or is known to happen. The team simply reaches out and offers help if the women want out. We know that 89 percent of those in the sex industry said they would leave but do not believe they can for fear of harm or lack of resources.
Sex trafficking is easily concealed, and it is vital that we be aware of its existence, warning signs and risk factors. Being a victim of sex trafficking is devastating. Victims are often coerced into a life of addiction, poverty, disease, violence, abuse and manipulation.
The good news is that with the increased awareness of this crime across so many social services and law enforcement entities, victims are being identified much earlier as more and more on the front lines are learning what to look for. The Priceless approach is to bring new community around victims as early as possible. Accessing services and starting a new life can only be done in the context of trust, safety and value. Priceless has trained over 200 mentors to walk with victims as they rebuild their lives and seek to redefine their worth.
Priceless Alaska, a nongovernmental entity dependent on private contributions, believes that no woman or child wants to be trafficked. Given the chance to escape and live differently, Priceless believes victims would take that chance. Priceless works to bridge the gap for those being trafficked and their desire to live a healthy, vibrant, self-sustaining life by providing a loving, supporting community.
On Friday, you will hear remarkable stories of survival from victims who have been rescued and are living new lives.
Please join us, along with Gov. Bill Walker and other state and community leaders, at the Changepoint Church in Anchorage as we take a stand against human trafficking and help victims redefine their worth and begin anew.
First lady Donna Walker is an attorney and former Office of Children’s Services case worker. Gwen Adams is founder and executive director of Priceless Alaska. Learn more about Priceless and the Sept. 29 event at www.pricelessalaska.com.