Whitefish Soroptimist Members Attend The Southwest Conference Against Trafficking

– submitted by Bonnie Baker, Soroptimist Whitefish member

Soroptimist-Whitefish human trafficking

Diane, Jenn F., Annie, Jane and myself attended the SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE AGAINST TRAFFICKING, (SWCAT for short)  January 11-13 in Ontario, CA. This conference coincided with Dr. Martin Luther Kings birthday to reflect Dr. Kings dream of living a world without slavery.

Soroptimist was well represented. Keynote speakers were Dawn Marie Lemonds – current president of Soroptimist International and Alice Wells – past president of Soroptimist International of the Americas, a federation of 21 countries, territories, and is the Past President of Soroptimist International – in 133 countries and territories.

One of the most powerful speakers was Michael Ramos, District Attorney of San Bernandino – the largest county in the US. In 2009, DA Ramos responded to the problem of Human Trafficking by creating the County’s Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation. Most recently he formed a county wide Human Trafficking Joint Investigative Task Force addressing sexual exploitation of minors.

To date the County has arrested 529 predators – recovered 197 victims and posted 156 names and photos of  convicted persons in their “Stop The John Project”.

“Our message is simple, and one that should be very clear by now. If you are convicted of purchasing another human being for sex in this county, we are going to share your name and photo with the world.” – District Attorney Mike Ramos

Diane is currently working on a similar Joint Task Force in the Flathead Valley.

Joyce Capelle – CEO of Crittenton Services stressed what is needed is a comprehensive trauma responsive treatment approach towards the victims empowerment and recovery.

Rachel Dissell – Investigative Reporter in Cleveland, Ohio. She was awarded the National Journalism Impact Award in Ohio for her 8 part series “Johanna: Facing Forward” which shared the story of a Cleveland teen sexually assaulted then shot in the face by an ex-boyfriend. This series lead to a change in Ohio laws. She also uncovered and wrote about neglected rape kits in Ohio.

As of July 2017,  Montana had a backlog of 1,140 untested kits. The State has since received a $2 million grant to pay for testing and another grant to develop a way to inventory, track and report on kits as they are tested.

Dr. James Beard and Dr. Kathie Mathis who are experts in the field of abuse put on a remarkable piece of theatre highlighting partner abuse – showing us how the man slowly gains control over his partner and eventually has complete control.

We also learned about an awesome organization called “The Open Door”.  Their goal is to provide an open door policy, which means that no matter the circumstances they will meet the client where they are at in their lives and no client will be turned away or denied access to re-enter the program. They know the individuals are victims not criminals. No Judgment!!

We all attended different workshops throughout the three days. Our goal is to share with you and our Community what we learned from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The Kidsmartz and Netsmartz links accessible on the NCMEC website were amazing.

The Kidmsartz sources teach 5-10 yr old children how to identify dangers and practice safer behaviors through videos, music and  games. This replaces “Stranger Danger” which is outdated.

Netsmartz is for 8-12 & 11-17 yr olds. Real life stories challenge teens to think critically about online safety, cyberbullying and sexting – which is sending nude photos to your boyfriend or girlfriend or a stranger that you may think is your boy or girl friend, via text. The materials include videos, discussion guides, tip sheets & presentations – all on the NCMEC website – all free.

Our plan is to get this information to our area schools.

Our last day was a two mile walk with 400 of our new friends to bring awareness to Human Trafficking. The five of us returned very inspired to continue on the journey to eliminate Human Trafficking. We ARE making a difference.

Thank you for making it possible for us to attend.