IVLP Group Working to Combat Trafficking in Persons
Late Saturday evening, a group of 9 IVLP visitors from around the world arrived in St. Louis as part of the program “Combating Trafficking in Persons.” On Sunday, the visitors had a chance to explore and enjoy St. Louis with trips to the Arch and the St. Louis Art Museum followed by home hospitality visits with local volunteers. Home hospitality is a great opportunity for visitors and volunteers alike, providing an invaluable experience to make new friends and learn about new cultures.
On Monday, the group began the day with a professional meeting with Dr. Rumi Price, Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and leading member of the Washington University Human Trafficking Collaborative Network. Dr. Price invited other members of the Network including representatives from UMSL School of Social Work, International Institute, United Nations Association St. Louis Chapter, Barnes-Jewish Hospital OB/GYN clinic, and the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis.
During the meeting, visitors were able to learn about the network and ask questions of the partners present. Conversation touched on prosecution of traffickers, methods of providing resources to victims, healthcare, and the use of local versus national victims of human trafficking hotlines. Regarding healthcare, everyone agreed that mental health needs to be made more of a priority in victim treatment as well as the need for appropriate policy and legislation to ensure victims receive the services they need.
Dr. Price explained how public awareness of human trafficking is key to shifting understanding in a more compassionate direction. The meeting ended with visitors and partners alike excited about the prospects of future collaborations and information sharing. This is truly what IVLP programs seek to do. It is not only about the meeting but about what future connections and collaborations stem from that initial meeting.
Later that day the group was able to meet with a representative from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to issues relating to reporting trafficking investigations and prosecutions as well as the role media plays in educating the public about human trafficking in the St. Louis area.
On Tuesday, the group met with Shima Rostami, Executive Director of Gateway Human Trafficking (GHT) and the various organizations that often partner with GHT. Partners present included the Interfaith Partnership, St. Charles County Prosecutor, Systems of Care, as well as local detectives and federal investigators. Shima invited each partner to discuss the work they do in the community such as diversity of faith education, methods of connecting victims to resources, working with victims who are U.S. citizens versus those who are not, relevant laws and public policies as well as mental health care for victims of trafficking. Shima explained how she believes it is critical to have leaders and people in positions of authority believe and support the mission in order to make progress.
Following this meeting the group met with Healing Action Network which works to combat sex trafficking and exploitation through community awareness. The organization is a staunch advocate on behalf of victims to ensure they receive the care and service needed to heal. The meeting focused on method of raising awareness and community education.
The program was a great success. Even though combating trafficking in persons is a difficult, complex issue to solve, it is uplifting to know that there are such dedicated professionals around St. Louis and the world who are fighting to end such a despicable practice.