Southbound lanes of I-65 shut down in Morgan County because of damaged bridge

Human Trafficking awareness event in Madison County brings attention to worldwide problem

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OWENS CROSS ROADS, Ala. (WHNT)-- A group at Rivertree Church in Owens Cross Roads observed National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in an appropriately practical way.

Their "Stopping Traffic" event raised awareness about the problem of human trafficking, and urged people attending to be proactive about doing something to help fight it.

Organizations including the Huntsville-Madison County Human Trafficking Task Force, The Wellhouse, and Stella's Voice were on hand to pass out pamphlets and start conversations about the issue, and what they do to help.

"[It's] any kind of commercial sex act for gain," summarized Pat McCay, chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Human Trafficking Task Force. "It can be for food. It can be for money. It's automatically human trafficking if it's under 18."

Human trafficking is in many ways, modern-day slavery. Victims are seen as disposable, and traded for little worth often over and over.

For many, that hits close to home.

"I-20 is the super highway of human trafficking in the United States," said McCay.

Through I-20 and I-65, the problem goes right through the heart of Alabama.  It's a sobering thought for the group.

Event organizers like Kristin Engelkemier think it's an important reminder to be vigilant.

"I have a 1-year-old daughter at home, and I know I would do anything to keep her safe and to have a happy life," said Engelkemier. "And I know there's [trafficked] kids all around the world that no one is fighting for them."

Traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to use their victims, said McCay in a presentation to the group gathered at the church. It's a $32 billion industry with an estimated 27 million victims; men, women and children.

This day is a national day of remembrance, a chance to get involved and give those victims more attention.

"We've got to stop it," said McCay, "And the only way I know how is through these types of events [and spreading the word.]"

Red Flags

Advocates say things like chronic runaway youth, appearing controlled by another person, inability to make eye contact, possession of several hotel keys, having tattoos as "brands", and having an increased fear of authority are things to watch out for and may be indicators of human trafficking.

How You Can Help

There are various resources available if you believe there is something suspicious going on in your neighborhood or if you are in trouble yourself.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is 1-888-373-7888. You can report suspected human trafficking there. You can also text INFO or HELP to BeFree at 233733.

The Wellhouse hotline is 1-800-991-0948. They are a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to providing shelter and transitional housing for those who have been trafficked.

Advocates recommend donating to awareness groups and those fighting human trafficking and telling others about the problem so they can be aware it's still going on in our world.