The YWCA of Van Wert will be holding a variety of events in January as part of “Human Trafficking Awareness Month.” (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
The YWCA of Van Wert will be holding a variety of events in January as part of “Human Trafficking Awareness Month.” (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – The Van Wert YWCA is gearing up for January which is dubbed as “Human Trafficking Awareness Month.” Several local activities are planned with the aim to increase awareness.

Again this year, white bracelets are being sold. White is the color of human trafficking awareness.

“We are doing the bracelets for the third year,” said Jamie Evans, YWCA Housing Coordinator. “It started out that we had victims and residents making them for us. We still have some that make some for us, but we also have the girls from both (Lincolnview and Van Wert) basketball teams will them for us.”

“It’s really just another awareness event that’s something that hopefully for the whole month of January, hopefully, longer, that people can wear those bracelets and start a conversation,” added Evans.

The YWCA will also be taking t-shirt orders for the Lincolnview vs. Van Wert girls basketball game on Jan. 12. The shirts will feature the team of choice’s colors and a “Stop Human Trafficking” graphic. Shirt orders need to be placed at the YWCA by Jan. 2 and will be picked up prior to the game at the YWCA.

Both teams worked together to make bracelets, and each team will try to raise the most money with all proceeds going to help victims of human trafficking. The winner will be announced at the Jan. 12 game and will win a traveling trophy.

On Sunday, Jan. 13 at noon, the Van Wert Cinemas will be doing a free movie screening of “Priceless” which is inspired by a true story of a man who vows to save two women from sex traffickers.

The Glow Bowl will return again on Jan. 20 at Van Wert Olympic Lanes from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Cost for the event is the charge to bowl. The Glow Bowl will also include a silent auction with items donated from various organizations.

On Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. the Van Wert Elks will host Pound and Pour: Pound Out Human Trafficking. The cost of the event is $25 and includes a 45 minute Pound workout and a ticket for a drink of choice.

The proceeds from each event will benefit victims of human trafficking. Tables with information will also be available at the events.

While many might not think human trafficking is an issue in Van Wert, Evans said it is currently an issue that the YW is seeing in Van Wert now.

“A lot of people think we don’t have trafficking in the area because there isn’t that white van or that creepy guy driving around kidnapping people and selling them,” said Evans. “Really, what we are seeing is that majority of the time it’s an order boyfriend trafficking a girlfriend, but it can be the other way around.”

Evans said that while there are cases of people being kidnapped and forced into human trafficking, more often than not in the United States, most trafficking cases are products of an older boyfriend or a family member forcing the victim into human trafficking.

“A lot of times it’s going to be an older boyfriend,” said Evans who noted that it’s very uncommon for a person of the same age to be the human trafficker. “A lot of times they try to isolate that girl. Then she might start showing up with really expensive, lavish items.”

“They groom their girls for quite a while, and that’s what we’re seeing,” added Evans.

Evans also said a huge red flag is seeing a person, especially a high school student, who is always tired and always falling asleep and can’t function properly throughout the day because at night they are forced to work.

“As far as family members trafficking their children, the biggest signs are not functioning during the day because they are up all night working for mom and dad’s drug habit,” said Evans.

Julie Schaufelberger, YWCA Outreach Coordinator, added that traffickers are good at finding venerable people and luring them in.

The YWCA provides several services to victims of human trafficking. Victims are able to live at the YW and are able to receive counseling, case management, and funding for those who need items while they are staying at the YW. Evans said victims who do not want to live at the YW can also receive services.

“The best thing [people] can do is be aware of their surroundings,” said Evans.

Additional events and information for the YWCA can be found on the YWCA Facebook page or at www.ywcavanwert.org.