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At this very moment, hundreds of thousands are recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In America alone, it is reported that every 98 seconds someone is sexually assaulted and this includes the heinous crime of sex trafficking. It is reported that women and girls represent 11.4 million trafficking victims. This can no longer be a subject only worthy of awareness. It has to be worthy of ACTION.
On April 4 Queendom Come, Inc., a Houston-based non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring young girls, hosted its first town hall meeting to begin the organizing efforts for the #ProtectOurDaughters campaign against sex trafficking and illegal organ harvesting. The official launch took place March 31 led by founding members who are also citizens of the Nation Of Islam and Muslim Girls’ Training and General Civilization Class.
Sadiyah Evangelista, Co-Founder of Queendom Come and moderator for the town hall meeting, opened with bone-chilling statistics for the city of Houston concerning missing girls and sex trafficking. “What we find is that the girls who go missing are being taken into sex trafficking, and social media is one of the top platforms used to trap them”, she stated. She also made it very clear that it would be up the community to take action, not depending solely on law enforcement or media coverage to bring the much needed attention. Evangelista welcomed everyone who was present and thanked them for deciding to take charge of their community and begin working toward a solution.
The town hall meeting consisted of a panel discussion of women who are also serving as the campaign committee heads. The five committees consist of Awareness, Self-Defense, Victim Restoration, Economics, and Education.
As each committee head explained the details of their respective focus group, the audience engaged with questions about the surge of sex trafficking in the city of Houston. One mother shared her own experience concerning her daughter who was taken from school and trapped into a sex trafficking ring for several months. She expressed that the local law enforcement attempted to convince her that her daughter was a “runaway”. Fortunately, she didn’t stop looking for her daughter, which would pay off months later when she was found. The issue of trusting law enforcement to assist was of great concern.
Valerie Muhammad, Student Southwest Regional Captain for the Muslim Girls’ Training and General Civilization Class in the Nation Of Islam, expressed that the responsibility of protecting our daughters and women in general is on us as a community. “We have to understand and recognize the value of our women. We have to make our communities a decent place to live”, she stated. Coaching parents how to recognize the signs early on was also suggested with the Education Committee. Parents were encouraged and reminded of their accountability to have honest conversations with their children by first being honest with themselves about the reality of sex trafficking.
Other concerns discussed revolved around the lack of involvement of the local churches. Another woman in the audience expressed her disappointment with how her church refused to address such issues and asked, “How can the church heal us if all they want to do is hide us”? In response to her concern, Pastor Sandra Deckard, who is a Committee head and appointed to represent the church community, stated that she would make it her duty to speak with that pastor and any pastor if need be. Her resounding message throughout the town hall meeting was to “shine the light on darkness” no matter where it was.
Kathy Griffin, Founder of the Been There, Done That program for rescuing and mentoring women out of prostitution, shared the reality of girls who run away being an effect of molestation in their home by family members, where as a result they end up being trapped into sex trafficking.
A discussion concerning the importance of following up with girls who are rescued was directed to the Victim Restoration Committee, that focused on the healing process and the mentorship which prevents a revolving door. “65% of women go back if there is no follow up or mentoring”, warned ShaQoya Jasper.
It was, again, reiterated that social media is one of the top platforms that predators use to lure young girls into sex trafficking using a method referred to as “Cat fishing”. Even more disturbing was the fact that pimps send men between the ages of 18-25 into schools posing as students to “befriend” and “groom” young girls for sex trafficking. Tactics such as offering expensive gifts, money and love are often used. Even adult women are inserted to pose as students to entrap other girls and boys.
— Ebony S. Muhammad (@EbonySafiyyah) April 5, 2017
The Self-Defense Committee, led by Fundi Fe, gave live demonstrations of how to break free from the restraints of a strong man. She began by asking how many in the room know how to break the restraints of a zip tie, which is commonly used on victims of sex trafficking. No hands were raised. She continued by sharing her story of being molested by her father at the age of 10, and how protecting herself and teaching other girls and women became a priority to her. “Self-Defense begins in the mind. If they’re afraid, they’re not coming home”, she expressed while standing next to two young girls.
Also present at the town hall meeting was the Student Southwest Regional Minister of the Nation Of Islam, Robert Muhammad. “We have to talk about the value of our women and girls. If we value something we’ll bring awareness to it”, he passionately expressed. Although there were men present, the assembly was overflowing with women, mothers, and daughters.
The bottom line and resounding message is that we have to teach our girls their value. Many agreed that if their value was placed at the forefront they wouldn’t participate in activities such as sex trafficking and prostitution. Kathy Griffin shared that many girls enjoy having trains ran on them, because it gives them the feeling of having “more love”. Along with those gripping facts, she offered words of hope to the audience, “Our people are rescuable! We can get them back from sex trafficking”.
Many agreed that the concerted effort to shut down the hotels and motels in the community was a priority, and in turn make those facilities into safe houses instead. Although the amount of work ahead is tremendous, it is not impossible in the least. It will take dedication, organization, resources, love, and fearlessness to dismantle an industry such as sex trafficking that is reported to hoist $1.6 billion in Houston alone.
The various committees passed around sign-up sheets for those in attendance to place their name on, giving their word that they are ready and willing to take on such as task. Nearly all of the sheets were completely filled with names. Despite the intense dialogue, the spirit of the town hall meeting was tremendously high. It was announced that emails would be sent to those in each committee to begin the work.
If you would like to get involved in the #ProtectOurDaughters campaign against sex trafficking and illegal organ harvesting, please visit Queendom Come, Inc. at MyQueendomCome.org and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
All Photos: Queendom Come Inc. Facebook