While many activities are disrupted by the ongoing pandemic, human trafficking is not one of them. Experts say that human trafficking is now proliferating due to how COVID-19 is worsening the social and economic conditions that are root causes of this global crime. Locally, the Savannah Interagency Diversity Council’s annual Traffick Jam is taking action to diminish this increase through education. Because of the pandemic, the SIDC was not able to hold its annual in-person Traffick Jam event this year to raise awareness about human trafficking in this region, but the group is adapting and reaching new crowds by hosting their annual conference online this month. The SIDC will conclude its 2021 Traffick Jam conference, themed “Breaking the Cycle of Human Trafficking One Human at a Time,” with the main event open to the public on Jan. 30 from 8 a.m. to noon. Like many other events that have taken place since the pandemic’s outbreak, this is the first time that the Traffick Jam conference has gone virtual. This year’s conference was hosted by the streaming platform Airmeet with sponsors including Memorial Health and International Paper, according to SIDC Marketing Chair and Treasurer Tina Browning. The Traffick Jam is usually held at Savannah State University on a single day with varied speakers addressing area professionals who confront human trafficking – including law-enforcement officers and mental-health specialists – along with one seminar series welcoming the general public. To accommodate its online platform, this year’s Traffick Jam is taking place over the course of four consecutive Saturdays, with the three sessions of specialized educational training workshops for professionals held on Jan. 9, 16, and 23, and the final session for all community members happening on Saturday. “The reason why we have this every year is to ensure that the public obtains awareness as to what to look for, the signs, and who to contact in case they see or suspect human trafficking or know someone who is being trafficked,” said SIDC Chairman William Gettis. “We also want to ensure the public gains knowledge of who our partners are, including the local organizations we want the public to know who they are, because that’s who they would call for assistance.” The conference’s educational topics include the operations and rescue efforts of the National Human Trafficking Hotline, victim resources and rehabilitation services, how sex trafficking victims are targeted and groomed, victim and survivor stories, and local prevention partners. Going virtual is not the only difference between this sixth-annual conference and previous ones. This year, the Traffick Jam is featuring its first male survivor of human trafficking as a speaker: Jerome Elam, the president and CEO of the Trafficking in America Task Force. Elam is a former victim of child abuse, child sex trafficking, and child pornography.
“The reason why we have this every year is to ensure that the public obtains awareness as to what to look for, the signs, and who to contact in case they see or suspect human trafficking or know someone who is being trafficked.”
Other main-event speakers include nurse practitioner Heather Quaile, Sarah Pederson with Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and Mel Meyer, director of the Atlanta Dream Center’s Anti-Sex Trafficking Department. “These are top-level speakers that will be at the January 30 main conference weekend,” said Gettis. By reaching out to diverse community members, Traffick Jam organizers hope to raise awareness of what to look out for to identify human trafficking in all sectors of society, according to Browning. “How important it is that every individual in their respective roles, including employees, business owners, and partners, understand really what human trafficking is, who’s at risk, and the negative impact of trafficking on individuals,” said Browning. “A lot of people think it’s just sex trafficking, but it’s also the forced labor where they have the domestic servitude, and it occurs everywhere.” Over 600 participants joined 2020’s Traffick Jam, and this year, even more are taking part in the virtual conference, according to organizers. Gettis enthusiastically added that the conference is attracting participants from faraway locations like Washington, D.C., Illinois, Philadelphia, Michigan, and even the Philippines. “We think that it’s important that this gets out in media that’s in every area, and we’re not going to let COVID pull us back,” said Browning. Visit thesidc.org for more information about the 2021 Traffick Jam and to register for the Jan. 30 conference events.