Sex Trafficking Awareness in Florence

The UNA community became aware of sex trafficking in Florence after Chief Gillilan sent a campus-wide e-mail Feb. 1. The message said students should be aware of religious groups approaching them.

By Editor-in-Chief Monday Sanderson

In 2017, more than 4,400 cases of human trafficking were reported in the U.S., according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The UNA community became more aware of this issue Feb. 1 when UNA Chief of Police Kevin Gillilan sent an email warning people of a potential sex trafficking ring.

“The University of North Alabama Police Department received a report on (Jan. 31) that students were being approached by a religious organization in shopping areas, parks and on campus,” Gillilan said in the email. “The initial report alleged that the organization involved could possibly be associated with a human trafficking ring and were specifically approaching females.”

Gillilan said UNA Police and other agencies have determined this is a legitimate religious group.

While this instance is only allegations, this does not mean there is no danger of this occurring in Florence.

“There have been a few local cases of human trafficking reported in the Florence area within the last few years,” Gillilan said. “There were at least 37 cases reported in the State of Alabama in 2017.”

People should be aware of cases like these, said senior Karli Hill.

“It’s one of these things that people know about, but don’t think about it happening here,” she said. “However, it can happen anywhere.”

Students should know of the tactics traffickers use, Gillilan said.

“Traffickers coerce people into forced labor and human trafficking by manipulating and exploiting their victim’s vulnerabilities,” he said. “Traffickers promise inclusion in a group, a high-paying job, a loving relationship, or other new and exciting opportunities. In other cases, they may kidnap victims or use physical violence or substance abuse to control them.”

Gillilan said it is also important for students to know human traffickers can be anyone.

“Often, traffickers share the same national, ethnic or cultural backgrounds as their victim’s,” he said. “Traffickers can be lone individuals or extensive criminal networks. Human traffickers may come from any walk of life making them difficult to identify.”

Students can take different precautions when on and off campus, Gillilan said.

“If anything seems suspicious, they should immediately remove themselves to a place of safety and notify law enforcement. It is also recommended to take a trusted friend along when visiting shopping areas, parks, attending social events, and to always walk in well-lit public areas.

In addition, (UNA police) offer SNAP escorts for students during evening hours to ensure safe passage across areas of campus. Students can obtain a keychain safety device from the Peace of Mind Company, which provides a one button push notification to UNA Police. When activated, the GPS location information and pertinent info is displayed in UNA Police dispatch to ensure that an officer is quickly dispatched to the location.”

Hill said she takes extra precautions as a female.

“I’m always aware of my surroundings wherever I go,” she said. “Whenever I walk somewhere, I try to walk with a friend or someone I know. If I’m by myself, then I will call someone and stay on the phone with them until I get to where I need to go.”

While these tips are meant to help people protect themselves in in-person situations, students must also consider the role of social media.

“Human traffickers often fish for potential victims through social media sites,” Gillilan said. “It is imperative that students refrain from sharing too much personal information and be responsible when accepted a friend or follower. My advice is that if you do not personally know them and trust them, avoid letting them in.”