Groups plan awareness event

ELKINS — Local agencies and community leaders will take part in a film and panel discussion this week in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Co-hosted by the Randolph/Tucker Children’s Advocacy Center and Women’s Aid In Crisis, the first “Food, Film, and Facts” program is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Elkins/Randolph County YMCA.

The free event will feature the 2016 documentary, “The Abolitionists,” which focuses on special agent Tim Ballard’s true-life fight to end child trafficking.

The film, which is rated PG-13, shows actual documentary footage from Ballard’s experiences rescuing child victims, and it addresses issues that some viewers may find disturbing. Margot Evick, director of the R/TCAC, said she believes the film will positively impact viewers.

“We chose this film because it raises awareness to the prevalence of child sex trafficking and this horrifying crime against children. ‘The Abolitionists’ movement is inspiring and we want you to be inspired to act,” she said.

The event will feature free food from El Gran Sabor, as well as a panel discussion by local law enforcement and service professionals in the community.

Participants will be able to interact with the panel about any questions they have about child sex trafficking and what the community is doing in prevention.

Panelists were selected to represent both the law enforcement and the social service sides of human trafficking in the local area.

“We have invited key members of our community including law enforcement, prosecution, social workers, and school counselors to be part of a formal panel discussion to bring into light what child trafficking looks like in our community, and hopefully spark conversation as to how we as individuals and as a community can proceed,” Evick stated.

Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker and West Virginia State Police Cpl. K.A. Corley will represent the law enforcement side of the panel. Elkins High School counselor Jennifer Parker and members from the R/TCAC and WAIC will represent social services on the panel.

Participants are encouraged to ask questions about how the local government and agencies are addressing human trafficking by prevention, intervention and education.

Participants will be able to learn warning signs of what to look for in identifying human trafficking victims.

Both the RTCAC and WAIC leaders said they hope the event serves as an educational opportunity, in hopes of prevention.

“If we don’t educate ourselves of the warning signs of human trafficking and take action against it, then it will never end,” Evick stated.