U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43) said it best…Togetta Ulmer, First Lady of Faithful Central Bible Church was stepping ‘outside of the box’ when she hosted “Life Without Limits; Surviving the Trauma of Human Trafficking” Community Forum recently at Faithful Central Bible Church located in Inglewood.

Promoted as ‘An Honest Conversation to Help Survivors of Human Trafficking in Urban Communities’ First Lady Ulmer gathered together top leaders in government, law enforcement along with organizations with ‘hands on’ work history in this area to discuss a human tragedy that is impacting our communities, nation and the world.

The Community Forum consisted of Waters, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-46), Trafficking Survivor, Harmony Dust-Grillo (Treasures); Dr. Stephany Powell (Journey Out); Captain Merrill Ladenheim (LAPD); Shirley Evers-Manly, Ph.D., RN, FAAN.

Hosted by TV personality and author Shaun Robinson, the event was punctuated with video testimonies, staggering statistics and finally a call to action to the Faith based community.

Waters said, “We need to pay attention, and we need to each join with the groups that are working on this to see what we can do. Our girls are out on Figueroa in front of our churches. They’re out on a Sunday. I was out campaigning and trying to pass out literature and I’m looking across the street…what is that? And it’s right before our eyes in broad daylight and they tell me about vans and limazines that are pulling up in our community, girls getting in and out…who do you think those vans belong to?…This is a terrible thing.”

Waters continued, “The First Lady has decided that this is an issue that she was going to do something about.”

Those directly impacted by sex trafficking shared their horrific world with the audience, painting vivid pictures of what life is like as a sex slave, and how God’s grace through the faith-based community offers a hand of hope.

Dust-Grillo, founder of Treasures, a faith-based outreach program for sex trafficking victims wanting to turn their lives around said, “There’s a glamorization of ‘pimp’ culture. Its objectifying and sexualizing women is normalized in our culture.”

Statistics reveal that 80% women and children are in the sex trade. The primary target group are children and teens (12-14).

According to the California Child Welfare Council, kids as young as 10 are being peddled for sex every day in Los Angeles County. Many of them come from troubled families and have previously been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The council said child sex trafficking has become more profitable than selling drugs, noting that a pimp can receive $162,500 tax-free annually for each child he forces into prostitution and that the average life expectancy of children who enter the sex trade is seven years. This means, on average, a child forced into prostitution at age 12 will be dead by 19.

Don’t be secure in the fact that you’re raising your child in a stable environment, with a good education all mapped out etc. Just go on the internet and read the stories about young girls and women getting tricked into the sex trade industry by simply chatting with a stranger on line. Child pimps are also on the rise, they either work for other pimps recruiting classmates or for themselves.

When asked how the “Life Without Limits, Surviving the Trauma of Human Trafficking” came about, Ulmer said at first she began to notice a great deal of advertising about children being lost and parents who can’t find them. This information was often coupled with talk about sex trafficking. But when Ulmer spoke with a young lady in her community her eyes were opened. She was told, “You know why that is ‘Lady T,’ there is human trafficking going on right here in our neighborhood and we don’t even know about it.”

Ulmer said she decided it was time to let her congregation know what was going on, “So that our young children here would have a chance to find out what was really going on in this world, and not get involved in it. And if the parents know, if the children know, and maybe we can save some of those children.”

After sharing her thoughts and concerns with her team, she learned there were programs in place to help trafficking victims, and much more. However, the more she learned about sex trafficking and how young innocents are preyed upon the more upset and determined she became. Ulmer continued, “That really frightens me which is another reason why I wanted to do it. Now, I have granddaughters, and I’m like, I know they can easily get into it…all it takes is the wrong person in their ear.” She continued, “We need to teach them (our children) what’s going on in the real world.”

I asked Ulmer, other than bringing attention to the community and the city at large, what else can the church do? She said, “I believe prayer certainly is the answer, God is the answer, but we are the people in the church, we’re the Christians, so we’ve got to get it out there. I’m hoping the people realize how important the subject is, God is important, absolutely, but we’re humans. That’s what I want people to know, we’re humans. And kids are humans.”

The more we know about the sex trafficking culture the more we will be able to recognize different behavior patterns of our children, from mood swings, to changing their style of dress, speech and attitudes.

We’re cautioned not to not hang on to the myth that only children in the ‘system’ or foster care, children from troubled homes and runaways are the most likely victims. Not so. Victims can be from any background and economics are not a factor.

Sanchez said the biggest scam right now is the modeling industry. Pimps promising girls the world, only to trap them into selling their bodies for the pimp’s benefit. “We see it, you only have to drive by anywhere there’s a convention, by large hotels, by the theaters…if you look for it, you will see it.” Sanchez continued, “The Faith-Based community is the strongest community. The Faith-Based community opens its hearts and as Harmony says, doesn’t judge.”

Ulmer focused on the fact that if an individual is in some way caught up in human trafficking and wants out, help is available. Seven organizations were on hand, passing out literature detailing their services as well as showing the Faith-Based community how they can be of help and hope for those seeking a way out of the sex trade.