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Bluff Park UMC women's ministry president Sylvia Sumners talks with Detective Ryan Smith and Sgt. Nina Monosky before their presentations.
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Hoover Detective Ryan Smith discusses human trafficking at Bluff Park UMC.
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Hoover Sgt. Nina Monosky discusses domestic violence at Bluff Park UMC.
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Birmingham Deputy Chief Henry Irby discusses human trafficking and domestic violence.
Bluff Park United Methodist Church’s women’s ministry held a forum to discuss human trafficking and domestic violence.
Carol Westbrook, a member of the women’s ministry, said this forum is a way the church works to inform the community on pertinent issues. While United Methodist Women works in missions, it also aims to bring change to the world through education.
Birmingham Police’s Deputy Chief Henry Irby said human trafficking is looked at through the act, means and purpose – the process of recruiting victims, how they are brought into the world of human trafficking and the reason for bringing in the victims.
While many believe human trafficking is a problem for other countries, Irby said this is not the case. Human trafficking with labor exploitation and sexual exploitation is a prevalent issue even in Hoover, he said.
Investigating these cases in the Birmingham area involves research on websites such as Backpage.com and sometimes involves looking into massage parlors. Even with this work, however, officers can have a hard time getting the needed information.
“Our biggest obstacle is gaining the trust of the victim,” he said.
An important step is recognizing the signs for suspicious activity and reporting them. Education for law enforcement and the public, Irby said, can help fight the problem of human trafficking.
Hoover PD Detective Ryan Smith said when he started as a patrol officer, he came across a few incidents where he did not immediately recognize human trafficking. On two occasions, he saw traveling sales crews made of out-of-state individuals. With more education, he said he might have recognized the circumstances of human trafficking.
“Hopefully those things won’t happen in the future with the efforts we’re making to educate officers,” Smith said.
Education also brings accountability to community members, where they feel compelled to help fight these crimes.
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you didn’t know,” Smith said, quoting William Wilberforce.
While she focused more on the issue of domestic violence, Sgt. Nina Monosky said domestic violence and human trafficking have some similarities. One of those is the legislative response to these crimes. Human trafficking laws are changing in a similar way domestic violence laws progressed.
“It’s really taking back some of that power so that we can make the situation safer,” Monosky said. “Even if the victim doesn’t want to prosecute, if we feel like there’s probable cause, we can prosecute.”
Education is also a helpful tool in situations of domestic violence, Monosky said. Although it is unlikely domestic violence will come to an end, providing victims with information can make a change in their lives.
Some of this education involves telling them what a shelter can do. Some people cringe at the thought of a “shelter,” not realizing it can provide legal help, counseling and other resources. Other times, education means explaining the importance of a restraining order or protection from abuse order.
“In the end, it’s a piece of paper and we need to recognize that,” Monosky said.
While these orders come down to a piece of paper, Monosky said, they are the first step of a protective process. By getting these protective orders, victims have the power to make simple acts, such as a phone call or an unwelcome visit, criminal acts.
“Then you have the backing to get him in front of a judge,” Monosky said.
Education was a goal of the event, Westbrook said, and the attendance and conversation generated by the speakers was a success. The event brought in more than 60 guests, and Westbrook said the majority of attendees were from outside the church, helping spread the discussion.
“We have a lot of cross-community attendance,” she said. “I think I didn’t recognize more people than I recognized.”
Bluff Park UMC human trafficking and domestic violence forum
Bluff Park United Methodist Church's women's ministry held a forum on human trafficking and domestic violence. Deputy Chief Henry Irby with Birmingham Police Department and Hoover PD Detective Ryan Smith discuss battling human trafficking.