(A quiet lake in Greensboro, NC.)*
Traveling onwards from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we proceeded deeper into the south towards Summerville, South Carolina, which is just slightly outside of Charleston. On Thursday, November 3rd, we sent a portion of our team to screen the film at Carolina Coastal University in Conway, near the Myrtle Beach area. Panelists for the event included David Palinski, the co-creator and Director of Project Lighthouse, a shelter in downtown Myrtle Beach for runaway/homeless youth; Michelle Harkey, a consultant on issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking; Ana Andonie, of the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; and Sergeant Michael Hildebrand, from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. Panelists described some of the demographics of trafficking in the area surrounding Myrtle Beach. Since Myrtle Beach is a midpoint between New York and Florida, a lot of the sex trafficking in the area takes place within populations of runaway youth or transients who are passing through the area. Similarly to North Carolina, law enforcement in South Carolina is being trained to see trafficking when it is taking place, but it seems as though there is a continuous learning curve for keeping up with these exploitative enterprises.
(Screening the film at Carolina Coastal University in Conway, South Carolina.)+
(Sarah-Jo introducing the film at Faith Assembly of God in Summerville, SC.)*
On Friday the 4th, we showed our film at Faith Assembly of God in Summerville. One of the people that hosted us in Summerville is the founder of an organization called Doors to Freedom, which is currently working to bring more awareness about sex trafficking in South Carolina, in order that they can open a restoration home that will house women who are exiting sex trafficking. It was an edifying time for our team, to hear the vision of someone who has such a clear sense of calling to bring healing to the need that exists in she and her family’s surroundings.
(The band playing after the screening at Faith Assembly of God.)*
(Chris Connoly tending to the percussion.)*
Saturday the 5th was spent almost entirely on the Interstate, driving even further southwards to Lakeland Florida where we’d be showing the film at Southeastern University the next day. Once we arrived to Lakeland, we were blessed by the hospitality of the students, some of whom allowed us to use their beds or floor space the couple nights we were there.
As we began preparing for the film on Sunday evening, we had initially planned to use just one room. However, as students began to trickle in, we quickly realized we’d need more space. (Of course, we recommend honoring fire codes when at all possible). In the last minutes before the intended start time of the film, we were able to gain access to three additional rooms. By the end of the evening we counted over 480 students who were able to see the film, many of whom stayed around after the film for a time of deeper processing and prayer. There is always a certain weight after people take in all the content of the film, but in this particular atmosphere it seemed to build into a setting where personal healing and hope were readily available.
(Tight quarters at Southeastern University.)#
(Sarah Jo sharing in one of the screening rooms at Southeastern.)#
Monday the 7th, a small part of our team in the RV embarked for Tallahassee to screen the film at Florida State University, while the rest of us drove back up to Atlanta, Georgia. But before the group heading to FSU got too far, they ran into some severe engine problems with the RV (black smoke billowing out of vents, etc.) and had to take it into the shop. Those with the RV then piled into the car they were towing with the RV to make it to FSU in time for that evening’s event.
(The RV hanging out with other sick (ill) vehicles.)#
The panel that shared after the film included Terry Coonan, the Executive Director of FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; Floy Turner, a Liaison for AMBER Alert; Jan Davis, the Program Administrator of the Sexual Violence Prevention Program at the Florida Department of Health; and Tyson Elliott, the Statewide Human Trafficking Coordinator for the Florida Department of Children and Families; and Morgan Perry, the executive producer of our film. Mr. Coonan, who did most of the work organizing the event, was involved in prosecuting one of the first cases that put human trafficking on the national radar, thus making way for the passing of our country’s first anti-trafficking legislation around the year 2000.
(Screening the film at Florida State University in Tallahassee.)#
During the panel discussion, Ms. Turner and Morgan discussed restoration as three primary steps. Though the first step of placing victims in restoration homes/facilities is a necessary part of the equation, healing doesn’t stop there. Equipping victims with the skills they need to thrive as a member of society requires a second step of reaching out to local communities, churches, and families that are trained to invest relationally into the victims’ lives. A third step occurs when victims are able to take their own initiative to invest in their community. Of course, the real life outworking of these steps is not nearly so cut and dry, but these three steps might serve as a helpful way to identify and understand the key parts of what is often an extensive process.
On Wednesday the 9th, the team in Florida moved east to Alabama to hold an early morning screening of the film at Auburn University in Montgomery. Panelists who shared after the film included Carrie Gray, the Deputy District Attorney of Alabama’s15th Judicial Circuit; Margaret Faulkner, a retired FBI Agent who specialized in child abduction cases; and Steve Searcy, from One Place Family Justice Center. With representatives from the FBI, local law enforcement, military law enforcement, and local non-profits and ministries, the audience was essentially a statewide think tank for sex trafficking. Due to the plethora of experts in the room, the time turned into a fast-paced, popcorn-style discussion. The local officials showed a marked tenacity in making clear commitments to combat sex trafficking in their state. Towards the end of the conversation, a representative from a local organization asked for a verbal commitment from the other leaders in the room, pressing those in attendance to actually take practical steps to act out against the issue in their communities.
(Morgan introducing the film at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama.)#
(Scott introducing the film at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.)*
On Thursday November 10th, we showed the film at Emory University’s School of Law in Atlanta. We welcomed the opportunity to show the film for so many people who are using, or may in the future use their legal vocations to advocate on behalf of children and other vulnerable populations in our country. On the panel after the film, we had Kaffie McCullough, the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Program Manager at the Juvenile Justice Fund; Kosha Tucker, from Emory University’s Barton Center, a group that deals with childrens’ legal issues; Dalia Racine, an Assistant District Attorney assigned to the Crimes Against Children Unit; and FBI Special Agent Joe Fonseca, the Crimes Against Children Coordinator in Atlanta. Ms. McCullough described the value of investing into victim rehabilitation from the first moment of identifying victims as such. If we just show a mediocre commitment to victims, cyclical abuse and resource drainage will continue to perpetuate themselves. However, if we invest generous portions of our time, resources, and energy from the beginning, in the long run we’ll have an exponential increase in the amount of healthy citizens who have an incentive to invest back into the communities that assisted them in the first place.
(FBI Special Agent Joe Fonseca describes his work with the Crimes Against Children Unit in Atlanta.)*
After waiting a couple days to get the prognosis from the shop on the status of the RV, we eventually found out the work would take quite a while. So, our team members that were originally with the RV drove back to Florida to pile the gear from the RV into a mid-sized U-Haul rental truck that it looks like we’ll be using through the end of the tour. Though the situation is a bit unconventional, we are thankful for the ability to press forward with the last month of tour. Within a day of posting our financial need in covering the cost of the U-Haul on Facebook, the costs were covered by a handful of individuals. We’re extremely thankful for your generosity!
(In lieu of the RV, the new member of our team, Ms. Haully.)^
Photos: Samuel Taipale (#), Chris Connoly (+), Jasen Chung(^), Timothy C. Dyk(*)Read More