In Oxford, the fight against human trafficking continues11/01/2023 11:21AM ● By Betsy Brewer Brantner
In 2012, a group known as ACE, Advocating, Collaborating, Educating, Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance of Oxford was formed. At that time, most people in Oxford simply didn’t believe human trafficking happened here in this idyllic small town.
The first gathering of ACE was held in September 2012 at the Union Fire Company hall. It was sponsored by a group of associates and sisters of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a member of the Maryland Task Force came to educate the community about the horrific crimes that were just beginning to be spoken about in public. At the end of the very informative morning, the audience asked what they could do next.
All these years later, the group is still meeting regularly. They try to meet the third Saturday of the month at the Oxford Senior Center. The recent meeting on Oct. 14 featured Carol Hart Metzker, who has been an anti-human trafficking activist for years, working in the states and globally. The battle against human trafficking continues, and fortunately the efforts to educate everyone about the horrific crimes involved with human trafficking have paid off.
Metzker explained that major hotel chains have been sued in the U.S. for enabling and profiting from sex trafficking. Hotels such as Red Roof, Best Western, Intercontinental were among the 12 chains named in a suit filed in 2019.
Twelve hotel chains were named and accused of knowing and ignoring warning signs that women and children were sold as sex slaves on their premises, according to the filing, a consolidation of 13 existing cases, in U.S. federal court in Columbus, Ohio.
That filing marked the first time the hotel industry — which has long been accused of serving as a breeding ground for sexual exploitation of women and children — faced action as a group.
Most recently, the owners of a Days Inn on Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia was ordered to pay millions of dollars to underage victims of sex trafficking after a court found the hotel knew about the crimes and did nothing.
According to Metzker, this is big news.
“Educating the public about human trafficking has worked,” she said. “It is too easy to be a victim to trafficking. When the rest of the world rejects you, the street welcomes you with open arms.”
Metzker explained, “Anything that gives you less opportunities makes you vulnerable.”
Events such as the recent large fire in downtown Oxford that displaced 90 persons can be the opportunity that a trafficker needs. Wars, extreme weather conditions, or the impact of the pandemic can contribute to making people vulnerable.
Peggy Russell explained, “The involved agencies moved quickly to put the fire victims in a safe location. Eventually, they were taken to an unidentified hotel. Many volunteers helped the victims navigate through the process. The hotel verified that their staff had received training on the signs of human trafficking. This training is something every hotel should require.”
Metzker said the education of law enforcement personnel has been instrumental in shutting down illegal massage parlors, and in rescuing persons from trafficking.
“We have worked with many law enforcement agencies teaching them how to see the signs of human trafficking,” Metzker said.
Where once the trafficked victims were thrown in jails, now those involved in trafficking are arrested. Counseling and help is available for the victims.
“Many victims have children, who traffickers hold hostage to control the victim. Survivors have a long road ahead of them before they can re-claim their life. Many have no jobs, or skills. They are starting over from scratch,” she said.
Thistle Hills, located in Chester County, has created a program to help trafficked victims.
The cost of treatment, providing a safe place and programs is not cheap, so donations are always welcome. If you would like more information on Thistle Hills, you can attend the November meeting of ACE. You can also call them at610-384-4721 for more information and to donate. You can email them and firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their website at thistlehills.org.
It takes a community to keep ACE moving forward. ACE advertises the toll free number, 888-3737-888, to report suspicious activity, provide opportunities to purchase Fair Trade coffee, tea, and chocolate, and collaborate with agencies to assist human trafficking survivors through the FBI, and Dawn's Place in Philadelphia, among others.
ACE is shining a light on this dark subject and welcomes volunteers and donations. The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 18 at 9 a.m. at the Oxford Senior Center, and more information about Thistle Hills will be available.
On Dec. 16, a gift collection will be held at the Oxford Senior Center at 9 a.m. where items can be dropped off for trafficked survivors.
On Jan. 2, 2024 a sound therapy session using crystal bowl will be presented by ACE at the Oxford Senior Center at 9 a.m. All are welcome.
“Education is the key to fighting human trafficking, so we are always looking for more volunteers and persons interested in helping the cause,” Russell said.