What do Women of the ELCA, two Catholic sisters, a human trafficking survivor and a police lieutenant have in common?

On Nov. 12, 2016, they all came together to fight human trafficking in Wisconsin.

More than 300 community members gathered at Peace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wis., for a day of awareness-building, training and networking. Hosted by Women of the ELCA of the East-Central Synod of Wisconsin and Sisters Celine Goessl and Kathy Lange of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Howard, Wis., the event attracted a wide array of community residents—parents and grandparents, clergy and lay leaders, social workers, concerned citizens and volunteers.

“Many people think (human trafficking) is something that only happens on the other side of the world or in poor neighborhoods,” said Shirley Paulson, one of the event’s chief organizers and Women of the ELCA’s synodical women’s organization president for the East-Central Synod of Wisconsin.

“We wanted them to know that it happens right here in northeastern Wisconsin, what they can do to protect their children and grandchildren and what they can do to help stop it,” Paulson said.

Since the 2014 Women of the ELCA Triennial Convention, bringing awareness to and preventing human trafficking has been a key focus of the organization’s justice ministries. While human trafficking can sometimes be seen as an urban problem, the event shed light on just how prevalent the crime is in rural communities as well.

“People want to hear good news about their community,” Andy Opperman, a lieutenant with the Green Bay Police Department, told the crowd. “Well, it’s not good news. This is happening right here.”

Author and human trafficking survivor Theresa Flores also shared her story. As a high school student in a wealthy suburb of Detroit, she was forced into prostitution by a classmate. “If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone,” she said.

Both Opperman and Flores also shared practical steps community members can take to help victims and stop trafficking, like avoiding companies with links to trafficking, calling and writing lawmakers and being aware of signs that a loved one might be at risk.

“It’s easy to put our heads in the sand and say it doesn’t happen here, but it does,” said Stacy Felton, an event attendee from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Green Bay. “This hits close to home for me.”

 For information on how to stop human trafficking in your community or to hold a similar event in your area, visit welca.org/humantrafficking.

Sarah Carson
Sarah Carson is an associate editor for Gather, the magazine of Women of the ELCA, and a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston, Ill.

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