Subject: Eyes Wide Open Conference – Exposing Human Trafficking in Our Communities

 

 

Around 150 community members filled the auditorium on Saturday, October 20th, for the day-long Eyes Wide Open conference, sponsored by Garden Gate Ranch. The event’s goal was to educate on the issue of human trafficking in our local communities and mobilize many to join the fight.

 

Presenters included:

  • Chief David Lorenzen, representing Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE)
  • Terry Forliti, former survivor and Executive Director of Breaking Free (St. Paul, MN area)
  • Ruth Buckels, A local advocate and adoptive mother of multiple trafficked survivors from Iowa
  • Pastor Christian Shields, Group leader for a program for men with pornography addiction
  • Brenda Long, Executive Director of Garden Gate Ranch, dedicated to restoring survivors

 

For those who have never attended this type of conference, here are a few key highlights from each presenter:

 

Debunking Myths (Chief Lorenzen)

Myth: Human trafficking happens overseas, not here in the US and definitely not in Des Moines.

 

Truth: Des Moines is on a list of the top 100 cities for human trafficking in the US.

 

Myth: Victims, knowing they are being trafficked, will seek immediate help.

 

Truth: Victims are often groomed over long periods of time. The trafficker actively manipulates the victim’s vulnerability and seeks to separate the victim from friends/other support systems. During this time the victim considers the trafficker her “boyfriend/friend.”

 

Myth: Trafficking only happens with those from lower socio-economic classes/poverty.

Trafficking happens at all income levels and ages. Terry Forliti, the next presenter, is living proof of this truth.

 

Survivor Experiences (Terry Forliti)

Terry was raised in an affluent community outside of Minneapolis. In high school she was a cheerleader and held a part-time job.

 

In her early teens she was raped by her boss and her parents divorced. Later, Terry met and married a man who, on their 3rd anniversary, told her he was no longer in love with her and wanted a divorce.

 

To deal with her emotional pain, Terry turned to cocaine. It wasn’t until she was almost 30 that running from her pain led to running with a crowd that eventually pulled her into “the life”. She experienced physical abuse, had to turn over all her money to her traffickers, and was manipulated into writing bad checks as a way to avoid “turning tricks”. She was eventually arrested. In jail she was introduced to Breaking Free and Jesus Christ, the ultimate breaker of chains.

 

Terry is living proof of how trafficking crosses socio-economic and age boundaries, even here in the Midwest. She is also proof of transformative power of Christ to heal and restore broken hearts.

 

Advocacy (Ruth Buckels)

Ruth learned about human trafficking in Iowa 8 years ago. She was fostering a teenage girl who had been trafficked across multiple states and was scheduled to testify at her trafficker’s trial. Ruth only became aware of the details after receiving the call from the district attorney’s office. The more Ruth learned about her foster daughter’s experience, the more she knew she had to do something.

 

Ruth eventually adopted several foster daughters, all who had been trafficked here in Iowa. The testimonials share common themes: being manipulated through force, fraud, or coercion; having their identification taken as a way to keep them from leaving, and having a daily quota.

 

Ruth also shared insights on buyers and traffickers based on experiences here in Iowa. Without demand there wouldn’t be a need for supply. More about buyers will be showcased in the Gridshock video scheduled to premiere April, 2019 in Des Moines.

 

Pornography and the Brain (Christian Shields)

Christian shared his personal story of how he became exposed, and addicted, to pornography starting from age 12 through his mid-20s. It came to overtake his thoughts and life. He eventually came to a point where he couldn’t continue living his lie. Through the help of his wife and a men’s support group, he gained freedom.

 

Now in his 30s, with 2+ years of freedom, Christian leads men’s groups to help men struggling with the same addiction. He shares research about pornography’s impact on the brain, and how the brain can be retrained to overcome impulses and urges typical of addiction. Christian gives God all the glory for his ongoing freedom.

 

The following local organizations were showcased to share how they are positively impacting the issue:

  • Garden Gate Ranch – dedicated to restoring local survivors. They also sponsored the conference.
  • Marcia Jannenga Jewelry – handmade jewelry with all proceeds supporting Garden Gate Ranch
  • Jericho Outreach Ministry – relationship-building with those in the adult entertainment industry
  • Faithful Envoy–partnering with other organizations engaged in restorative efforts
  • Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking & Slavery – focused on education, advocacy, and community partnerships across Iowa, including oversight for hotel/motel training
  • Truckers Against Trafficking – educating truckers to recognize and report suspected activity
  • #30ForFreedom– raising money through road races to put toward rescue and restoration
  • Sak Saum – bags, scarves, jewelry and more, all made by restored survivors in Cambodia
  • Harvest House – a ministry and retreat center located outside Pella, IA
  • Damsel in Defense – equipping women to protect themselves through self-defense tools
  • Christian Life Magazine – reaching readers with the hope of the gospel

 

At least 30% of attendees had never attended a trafficking conference before. While the content shared was heavy and heartbreaking, each presenter also shared HOPE. Just a generation ago smoking was celebrated. Now it’s stigmatized. Knowing and sharing the truth made a difference.

 

How can you make a difference? You can:

  • Bring a friend to next year’s Eyes Wide Open Conference, currently slated for October 11-12
  • Invite organizations to come speak at your church, work, or neighborhood. Learn how you can support them.
  • Volunteer to train hotel/motels in the local area. (All trainers receive training and support.)
  • Contact Teens Against Human Trafficking to learn more about what’s available for teens
  • Put these numbers in your phone. If you see something suspicious, say something.
    • National Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888 or text “Help” to BEFREE (233733)
    • Statewide Iowa Crisis Line: 800-770-1650 or text “iowahelp” to 20121
    • When in doubt, call 911