By Sarah Brown
Dozens of people gathered Aug. 22 to raise awareness about human trafficking and child abuse during a rally on the corner of Airport Road and Highway 20.
“This is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time,” said Elyssa King, who organized the rally.
King works with people who are traumatized by certain disabilities and events, including human trafficking victims, she said.
When she saw that people across the world were organizing their own rallies on Aug. 22, she realized it was the best way to speak up.
“That’s the way to get our voices heard, everybody do it all at once,” she said.
Kyle Riebe, of Lebanon, brought his fiancee and their children to the rally because the threat of human trafficking hits close to home for him. Not only have his co-workers expressed concern about being followed while with their children, but even his own daughters had an experience last year, he said.
“They were grabbed by an individual at our apartments. I was 50 feet away, but just right around the building and I couldn’t see it. Luckily, I’ve taught them enough self defense where she fought him off, and (the other daughter) tried to help fight him off,” Riebe said.
“So anything I can do to create more awareness, more protection for our kids, I’m gonna do it.”
King thinks people might find it hard to address the issue of child sex trafficking because “it’s a harsh reality,” she said. Graphic photos are showing up on social media and people don’t want to see it.
“But the reality is they don’t get to turn away from it. They have to face that. I think it’s just too hard for people to accept. Nobody wants to know that, nobody wants to see it, but we have to. It’s the only way anything’s gonna change,” she said.
Brandi Gali, of South Beach, drove to Lebanon specifically to attend the rally, she said. She tries to go to any rallies being held, and shares the story of her daughter, Hailey Edgmand, 6, who was molested by Gali’s boyfriend.
Gali said the abuse happened for two years and she saw no signs of it happening. When Hailey finally told her mom, the boyfriend confessed and now is serving his sentence behind bars, she said.
“The most important thing community members can do to prevent child sex trafficking – and child abuse in general – is to learn more about it,” said Jenny Gilmore-Robinson, executive director at ABC House.
Education about commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) helps people understand how to recognize red flags and make a report, Gilmore-Robinson said. ABC House offers training, and encourages the community to visit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (missingkids.org) and Polaris (polarisproject.org), which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.
“There is a misconception that the most common scenario for trafficking is a child forcibly kidnapped by a stranger and then held captive,” she said.
“The reality is that most sex trafficking victims are manipulated by someone local whom they come to trust, including family members and adult ‘friends’ met online.”
Parents and caregivers can help by keeping open communication with their children, monitor internet and social media use, and stay aware of who they’re spending time with, she said. A child or teen in the presence of a controlling adult or someone with large amounts of cash or electronic devices may also be warning signs.
King and a team of admini-strators started a Facebook group called Oregon Against Human Trafficking, and she hopes to help continue organizing rallies throughout Oregon.
“The world’s gotta open their eyes and see that there’s more out there than just our everyday lives, that there’s kids out there going through [stuff] that no one knows about, kids that are going unheard, being sold, tortured, raped, murdered, and nobody talks about it,” King said.
“Nobody does anything. They just stay silent and go on with their lives, and I think it’s time something is done.”