By Emily Jackson
Toledo community members fought against the proliferation of human trafficking last Saturday, by bowing their heads in prayer. The Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition (LCHTC) hosted its third annual Multi-Faith Prayer Breakfast Jan. 27 in the UAW Hall at 2300 Ashland Avenue, recognizing January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
The event began at 10 a.m. and lasted two hours as 130 community members and religious leaders prayed together, united.
“Whatever your religion is, there’s certain things they all share, and that’s teaching people to love and take care of the poor and the vulnerable,” said Dr. Celia Williamson, director of the University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute and this year’s keynote speaker.
Sandra Sieben, co-chair of LCHTC, said they chose Williamson to speak because of her extensive knowledge on the topic of human trafficking.
“Dr. Williamason has been at the forefront of this fight for over two decades,” Sieben said. “She is one of the founders of the coalition so she’s been doing a lot of research in Toledo and throughout the state of Ohio. She is a national and some would say, world renowned expert on the topic of human trafficking.”
Williamson spoke specifically about the sex trafficking allegations made against pastors in the Toledo area and said that these situations create a vulnerability in youths who are then more susceptible to being trafficked.
“When we don’t speak up for young people, then we help to promote that vulnerability,” Williamson said. “It doesn’t matter what your situation is in life; you have a responsibility to speak up.”
Sieben said that Williamson’s main point was “just because you are someone in power, it doesn’t mean that you have the right to take away the rights of other human beings.”
Ten to 15 tables were set up during the event to educate people on ways to support victims, Sieben said, and a panelist of six leaders of different faiths including Muslim, Lutheran, Baptist, and Christian led the participants in prayer and all faiths were welcome to join.
“They were led to kind of reflect and pray in their own way, however they felt comfortable, for not just victims and survivors of human trafficking but for the demand side,” she said. “For those who are buying services or unfairly treating workers, as well as those who are working in the field of human trafficking.”
The event was free but participants were asked to bring hygiene items to be donated to victims of human trafficking.
“Agencies that provide services to human trafficking victims took the items collected and will distribute to their clients,” said Amy LaGesse, regional coordinator and secretary of LCHTC.
LaGesse said these agencies include RISE, A Renewed Mind, Advocating Opportunity, Butterflies15, and the YWCA HOPE Center.