The Weekly Vista
Vigil to end trafficking held at Cooper Chapel
Village Bible Church in Bella Vista held a prayer vigil to end human trafficking on Jan. 24 at the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel.
Pastor Al Frank welcomed those who attended, saying, “God has called each of us to be here.”
He said he had been reading online that there were 40 million people worldwide who were victims of human trafficking, which he said is more than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 1800s. During the 1800s, he said, Christian abolitionists got together and prayed for slavery to end.
“This is the greatest, unspeakable evil of our time,” he said. “God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we can ask or imagine.”
Associate Pastor Joseph Utter led the crowd in singing a couple of songs, and then Bev Polk spoke. She said trafficking is a modern-day slavery and is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. She shared the following definition:
“It is the act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of person(s), by means of the threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of the person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.
“A crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults of children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in a commercial sex act. When a person younger than 18 is used to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud or coercion involved.”
Anna Ellis shared some statistics about human trafficking. First, she shared worldwide statistics provided by the International Labour Organization in 2022. She said there are 40 to 50 million people in modern-day slavery. In forced labor trafficking, there are 28 million people, which includes 3.3 million children, she said. Asia and the Pacific regions account for more than 50 percent of the total victims, and the highest number of people are in India, she said. Profits for labor trafficking are $51 billion per year. She said 22 million people are victims of sex trafficking and forced marriages. Of those, 25 percent are children, and that rate is growing. Profits for sex trafficking are $99 billion per year, she said.
In the U.S., she said, it is often hard to find accurate numbers because of the hidden nature of the crime. She said the U.S. Department of State estimated at least 19,000 people are trafficked in the country every year, but many organizations feel this number is not being tracked properly. The U.S. is the number one consumer of sex worldwide, she said, and is one of the largest producers of child sexual abuse material.
“This is difficult to even think this is happening in the United States, but it is real and it is growing every year,” she said.
Gretchen Smeltzer, executive director of Into the Light, a faith-based organization based in Mountain Home that assists survivors of human trafficking, also spoke at the vigil.
“It’s not easy work, and it’s hard to look at the darkness every day,” she said. She added the organization has a vision that no child who has been victimized by trafficking will have to walk alone.
Into the Light serves 15 counties in Arkansas and reached 163 individuals last year, she said. The organization provides several types of services including long-term advocacy, court advocacy, prevention, crisis intervention, community collaboration, working with law enforcement and helping victimized children rebuild healthy attachments.
She said trafficking can happen anywhere because there is always someone willing to traffic, and it can happen in a rural area or a very populated community.
Debbie Rossell spoke briefly, saying, “We at Village Bible Church believe every human is created in the image of God.”
She continued, “We must fight for (victims). We must be their voice. Eradicating human trafficking reflects the heart of God.”
She added there will be prayer walks in the future announced on the church’s Facebook page.
After a time of prayer, Utter played a final song, during which the audience was invited to raise blue LED candles they had been given to symbolize solidarity with those caught up in human trafficking. Blue is the color of human trafficking awareness.
According to information distributed at the event, to report a suspicion of someone being trafficked, call Benton County Sheriff’s Deputy Shawn Holloway at 479-271-1008, call 911, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888373-7888 or text 233733.