Jenny Mathews, contributing writer

 

Human trafficking — or modern slavery — is the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation. It is real and happening everywhere, even here in Cache Valley, and even to innocent children. It isn’t fun to think about, but if we don’t, this fast-growing $99 billion industry will continue to grow, continue to destroy lives, and continue to threaten safety.

Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) began five and a half years ago when Tim Ballard, a former Central Intelligence Agency agent and Department of Homeland Security agent who spent over a decade assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and who was deployed as an undercover operative for the U.S., decided that he had to find a way to do more. The mission of O.U.R. is to end child slavery. They provide training and resources to enhance law enforcement efforts around the globe.

When Sam and Kacie Malouf, owners of Malouf, a locally based and multinational luxury bedding company, learned about O.U.R. and their mission, they created the Malouf Foundation to join the fight. While the Malouf Foundation also provides bedding and raises funds for many other charities and causes, partnership with O.U.R. is their flagship cause and something they are passionate about.

According to their website, the Malouf Foundation strives to “rescue and shelter sexually exploited and trafficked children and stop physical and sexual abuse, while supporting other humanitarian efforts.” The Malouf Foundation works to ensure every child lives with freedom, hope, justice, and dignity — and sleeps in a safe home.

“Globally, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world,” Malouf Foundation Communications Director Jake Neeley said when interviewed on our podcast, Breakfast Epiphanies, last month. “It is a $99 billion industry — that’s enough to buy every professional basketball, baseball, and football team, plus buy every Starbucks and send every kid to college. It is astronomical and growing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t focus on one place, country, state, or even community. Once you know that it happens, you will see it in the news all the time.”

Prior to our interview, Jake had reviewed local news sources over the previous two weeks and identified several local articles related to exploitation.

“The sad part is that it is going on,” Jake said. “The good part is that we know that it is going on and we have very effective law enforcement and people who are fighting it. However, they don’t have everything they need. We are working with our own resources and our partners to raise money to get more resources to law enforcement to be able to do more.”

In an effort to spread the word and increase awareness, the Malouf Foundation has created a series of “On Watch” videos aimed to train and educate people to recognize the signs of human trafficking and to know how to respond when they see something.

The “On Watch” training is completely free and takes less than 45 minutes to complete. Visit iamonwatch.org to begin the training.

“At the end of the training you will know how to recognize someone who is being trafficked, and you will know who to call and what to say,” Jake said.

The Malouf Foundation has taken additional steps to educate our community, including providing a series of speakers including O.U.R. founder Tim Ballard and Jason Weis, who worked as a detective for the Department of Homeland Security and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to rescue children and arrest and convict offenders for over 10 years.

“It’s hard to imagine our own community at risk from sexual predators, but just look at the news. We’re reminded weekly that they threaten our children right here in Cache Valley,” Sam Malouf, CEO of Malouf and co-founder of the Malouf Foundation, said. “We want parents equipped with the right tools so we can build a new model of safety in our own backyard.”

 

On Watch Anti-Human Trafficking Training

The signs of sex trafficking are all around us, but we can only see them if we know what to look for. Next time you’re in an airport, gas station, bus stop, or shopping mall, be “on watch” for the potential signs of children in distress. Together, we can see the signs and stop the cycle.

SEE THE SIGNS

Complete the On Watch Training

The Malouf Foundation and Operation Underground Railroad have created a series of videos and quizzes to help you learn more about the signs of human trafficking and how to report them. Complete the free training by visiting malouffoundation.org/onwatch.

STOP THE CYCLE

Pledge to Stay On Watch

Increasing awareness about the signs of potential trafficking situations may not seem like the front line of this battle, but it is. By going through the training, internalizing that knowledge, and passing it on to family, neighbors, and friends, you are doing your part to stop the cycle.

JOIN THE FIGHT

Donate to the Cause

Over 2 million children worldwide are victims of sex trafficking. They don’t have the necessary tools to end their nightmare, but you may.

You can pledge a minimum of $5 a month, or a one-time donation of a minimum of $50 at malouffoundation.org/onwatch to help fight sex trafficking,