More than 100 people held a human trafficking vigil in the River Park Square atrium on Saturday, holding glowing plastic candles to draw attention to a form of modern-day slavery.
AmberDawn McCall attended with her six children after hearing about the event on Facebook. McCall, now the leadership and community pastor at Hidden Valley Worship Center in Sandpoint, said her mother had been a sex slave in Canada. “I was born into it,” McCall said.
She was freed at age 6 after her mother was killed, McCall said. Since then, McCall has helped found the group Listen Conspiracy, which works to help survivors of human trafficking.
“I believe everything I faced as a child is so I could become an advocate,” she said. “We work to help people heal from sexual trauma.”
Saturday’s event was organized by Lutheran Community Services Northwest to increase awareness in this region. “Human trafficking is a crime that matters,” said Mabel Elsom, anti-human trafficking coordinator for Lutheran Community Services Northwest. “We have slaves in our city, in our country.”
Raising the community’s awareness of human trafficking is essential, state Rep. Kevin Parker said. “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in our history,” he said. “The best thing we can do as a community is to educate, educate, educate.”
Parker said some estimates put the number of trafficking victims in the Spokane area between 450 and 750.
Miss Washington 2014, Allyson Rowe, spoke about being targeted by a suspected trafficker while shopping in Phoenix a few years ago. She noticed a man following her and reported her suspicions to a police officer located near the store’s exit. The officer told her it is common in some areas for traffickers to target young women and girls while they are shopping and then abduct them in the parking lot, Rowe said.
“It sparked my passion to want to know more,” said Rowe, who is from Spokane Valley. “It’s not something that just happens overseas. I love children. They’re not meant to be sold.”
Among those in the crowd was Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who said he’s been working on human trafficking education efforts for the last five years. It’s likely that slaves are transported through the area, he said. “We’re on the I-90 corridor,” he said. “They don’t stay long, and they’re really using the Internet well.”