Last week I attended the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah. I attended to support several friends who were presenting and I attended because I wanted to listen to Ed Smart speak on human trafficking. I feel like this information is worth sharing and more relevant to my old blog than my current one, so I’m back for a minute. The presentation was a panel of 4 speakers (there was a fifth scheduled, but he was unable to attend), and the theme was ‘Faith in Action’.
The first speaker was a woman who suffered significant sexual abuse as a child. (Her bio made it sound like she was a victim of human trafficking, but when she spoke it didn’t sound like that was actually the case.) She is the co-founder of A Change of Heart Foundation that helps people recover from addiction and is a volunteer for the Utah County Crisis Line. She said that everyone can relate to suffering on some level. She encouraged people to do their part to address that and related the story of the old man and the sea stars. Even small efforts matter to those who they touch.
Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, said that the experience of having their daughter kidnapped changed their lives permanently. They were hoping that once she was back they could back to their life the way that it had been. That was not possible. He felt called to get involved to advocate for children. He feels that part of living his faith as a Mormon is reaching out to those who are suffering. He became the president of the Surviving Parents Coalition. He has spent time lobbying Congress and the Senate for passage of the National Amber Alert plan, the Adam Walsh Act and the Protect our Children Act of 2008. He is also involved in Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), which rescues women and children around the world who are trapped in human trafficking. Ed that one of the ways that we can make changes to these awful things that are happening is to have conversations about hard things! We need to talk to our kids about sex and abuse and that they need to be alert to these things to help prevent them. (Research has shown that abstinence only education is generally not effective. When you talk to kids about sex (abstinence-plus or comprehensive education) they are less likely to be abused and statistically they are more likely to wait a few years to have sex and have fewer sex partners! It helps them to feel empowered to say no because they are thinking about it ahead of time. Youth who have comprehensive education are also less likely to get pregnant or have abortions when compared to those who had abstinence only education.) “Too many times we don’t talk about things that need to be talked about.” “Opportunities to change come with dialogue.” So even though many members of the conservative community do not want to talk about these issues, it is so crucial that they do! The United States is the largest producer and consumer of child pornography which means that there are far too many children who are being exploited. If we want to change this we have to talk about it, even if it is not pleasant. One story he told is that his organization decided to hold a banquet in the street of an area where there were many brothels. Many women and children who worked in these brothels came out to eat with the people from OUR. Their first step was try to show these victims that they were loved. And when they would normally be ‘working’, they stayed at the banquet. Afterward a few of the victims had the courage to speak out against their captors and many people were rescued. I love this story. I firmly believe that if you want to change people’s lives you have to love them.
Jerry Gowen is the COO of Operation Underground Railroad.
(And small world, I used to work with his sister-in-law.) He talked about how he left a more lucrative position because he wanted a job that was more fulfilling. He encouraged everyone to find a cause that they are passionate about and devote what time or money they can to it. He said that there are an estimated two million child sex slaves worldwide. (As a mom, and someone who works with kids, I find that to be absolutely heart-breaking. 2 million is a whole lot of children suffering horrific things.) He advised everyone to have the courage to talk about topics that aren’t fun. We need to open our mouths and raise our voices. He said that in the near future their organization is focused on using technology to prevent and catch more human traffickers, which will have exponential results.
Rebecca McHood is a former Mormon (Represent!) who has found great meaning in advocating for victims of sexual addiction and the sex trade. She founded International Sexual Exploitation Enemies United (ISEEUHope) to raise awareness against the sex trade and sex addictions. She lives in a conservative town in Arizona and discovered that there over 60 sex parlors in her community, many of which were exploiting children. She contacted her local mayor and met with him and one hundred other local women who were demanding action about this. Because of this several laws were passed that made it more difficult for these establishments to operate, and particularly made it harder for them to exploit children. She talked about how it can be really hard for people whose spouses suffer from sex addiction because they don’t feel comfortable talking about it or getting emotional support. Her organization is there for people to reach out to, someone who won’t judge and will send people out to support those who ask for it. She also encouraged people to tackle these issues in their own communities. More areas should offer free STD testing so that spouses of sex addicts can protect themselves and seek treatment. More people need to be aware of victims that are hiding in their own communities. She also mentioned the importance of sex education for youth.
Overall I felt like it was a good presentation. I applaud these people for taking action and encourage others to get involved in their own communities. It is so important that people in our communities are aware of these problems so that we can make efforts to change the situation. Please, please talk to your children. Talk to your families. Be involved in your communities! Props to the presenters and everyone who put in so much effort to make the Sunstone Symposium possible.