Human trafficking awareness: Let your kids know their worth; don’t be a ‘robotic parent’

ST. GEORGE — Amie and Todd Ellis lived their worst nightmare in 2017 when their daughter was reported missing. Now, they’re continuing to share what their family went through, including the aftermath of healing.

L-R: Todd and Amie Ellis at the Save the Next Girl community awareness night on human trafficking at the Electric Theater Center in St. George, Utah, April 23, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Save the Next Girl, co-created by Amie Ellis, hosted its third community awareness night Tuesday at the Electric Theater Center. It was a full house in the theater as concerned parents, community members and more listened to experts on the topic, as well as Amie sharing what life has been like since recovering her daughter in California more than a month after her disappearance.

“This doesn’t just happen,” Amie said, adding that human trafficking isn’t always grabbing a kid and throwing him or her in the back of a van.

When Amie’s daughter was 12 years old and in her first years of middle school at Snow Canyon, another girl posted the “top 10 sluts of Snow Canyon” on Facebook, and she was listed as No. 1.

“It crushed her soul, and it taught what she was to believe about herself,” Amie said, holding back tears.

After that, Amie said nobody wanted to be her daughter’s friend.

While addressing the full house, Amie also discussed the three different types of traffickers or pimps: the romeo, the gorilla and the CEO pimp.

The romeo pimp, described as a trafficker who says he will love you and take care of you, is how it started for Amie’s daughter, she said. The gorilla pimp is a trafficker who uses brute force, which Amie said her daughter also experienced while missing. The third pimp, known as the CEO pimp, uses money and business strategies to lure victims.

While having a missing child can be the worst thing to happen to parents, the aftermath of rescuing a child from human trafficking can be just as worse.

“We’re finding out that the aftermath, the aftercare, is the hardest because their souls are crushed,” she said. “Their war has just begun when they’re found. You have to retrain a brain that has been broken.”

Before ending her speech, Amie asked everyone in the audience to open the envelopes with red X’s on them – a symbol often used to bring awareness to ending human trafficking. In each envelope was a picture and information of a missing child. In total, there were 312 missing children from five different states. Most of the cases were from 2018 and 2019.

Michelle Guymon, director of the Child Trafficking Unit for Los Angeles County Probation department, presents at the Save the Next Girl community awareness night at the Electric Theater Center in St. George, Utah, April 23, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Like other speakers who followed her, Amie said part of human trafficking prevention is reaching out to children and teenagers who are struggling. She also said it’s important to not be a “robotic parent” and to become invested in your children’s lives.

Other speakers who are invested in ending human trafficking took the stage to share their expertise on the topic. Michelle Guymon, director of the Child Trafficking Unit for Los Angeles County Probation department, discussed the pathways of entry for human trafficking, which are:

  • Peer recruitment: Girls recruiting other girls.
  • Homelessness: People who are homeless, oftentimes young boys or men, will exchange sex for basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter.
  • Violence and kidnapping: A trafficker threatens a victim in order to take him or her.
  • Family pimping: A parent sells their child.
  • Social media and the internet: When a trafficker poses as someone else online, like a booking agent for modeling.

Guymon said children who are most vulnerable to human trafficking include children who run away from home. When a child runs away, they are in need of shelter, food and clothes, which traffickers will use to lure them in. For Southern Utah, Guymon said one of the community’s vulnerabilities is that it’s not far from Las Vegas – one of the biggest hubs for human trafficking in the U.S.

Rudy Gonzalez, a pastor and director of SERT Ministries, said it’s important to reach out to children in your community, including those in foster care or other programs. Gonzalez and SERT Ministries aided the Ellis family in finding their daughter. Jason Sisneros, a public speaker, philanthropist and advocate against human trafficking also spoke.

A question and answer period was held, featuring the night’s speakers as well as experts in the Southern Utah community: Brook Triplett, a forensic interview specialist with the Washington County Attorney’s Office; Tiffany Sullivan, of the Family Support Center; Alii “Bear” Alo, founder of TEAMRAW Youth Outreach; Gary France, FBI agent in Southern Utah; and Sgt. Choli Ence, of the vice unit for St. George Police Department.

Audience members asked questions ranging from what social media apps parents should be aware of to how to talk to your children about uncomfortable topics, such as human trafficking.

Tuacahn High School of the Performing Arts Ballroom Dance Company performs a musical number called “Rescue” at Save the Next Girl’s community awareness night at the Electric Theater Center in St. George, Utah, April 23, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Ence told the audience the most important thing people can do is report incidents, even if you think they’re dumb.

“We can’t help you guys if you don’t tell us what’s going on in the community,” Ence said. “If you think it’s dumb, we don’t care. We’ll look into it to make sure we actually know what’s going on.”

A special musical number called “Rescue” was also performed during the evening by Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts Ballroom Dance Company.

In addition to the community awareness night, Save the Next Girl will also be hosting its third annual 24-hour rowing fundraiser starting Friday at 4 p.m. at the Max Performance Center.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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