RAHAB Ministries spreading messages of truth, love to stop exploitation.

While some are shocked and scared by the recent news of 14 arrests in Jackson Township of men seeking to have sex with children, I am encouraged.

I am encouraged because the issue, which has long needed a united community response, has risen to the forefront of the community’s consciousness.

In 10 years of investigating child exploitation and sex trafficking, as an FBI Special Agent based right here in Stark County, I saw that the stories you hear about in the news are only the tip of the iceberg. Predators in our backyard are seeking to have sex with children, just like they are in every community.

While the recent news might be shocking to some, nothing has changed, except that 14 men were thwarted from encounters with real children. And now, the community has a new level of awareness of the need to get educated and to engage this issue in a tangible way.

Now is the time for the entire community to follow law enforcement’s example of coming together and addressing the problem head on.

Law enforcement is an important part of the response to child exploitation and sex trafficking, but law enforcement alone is not the answer.

Traffickers have networks to surround their victims, to keep them compliant so traffickers can profit.

I left the FBI to grow a different type of network to combat the traffickers’ networks.

Reaching Above Hopelessness and Brokenness, Inc. (RAHAB Ministries) began addressing sex trafficking more than 17 years ago — before sex trafficking became a commonly recognized term.

RAHAB strives to go to all the places a vulnerable or trafficked person might be, to offer real love, instead of the false version traffickers offer, and to speak the truth of their value to people who have never been told.

Truth and love are the answer to ending sex trafficking.

I could provide that answer to some degree as a law enforcement officer, by treating people with compassion so they felt safe to tell their stories and gathering facts to put them on record. That type of law enforcement is a vital piece of the response. But it’s not nearly enough.

Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities. They shop online for victims by scrolling through teenagers’ social media accounts. They pretend to be a boyfriend or mentor, grooming victims by filling a need for love with a counterfeit. It’s not about finding the trafficking hot spots. Traffickers go where kids go. The recruitment spot could be Instagram. It could be the school lunch table.

We cannot address trafficking effectively if we believe the myths about trafficking and miss the root issues that make people vulnerable.

RAHAB is privileged to be part of a movement already underway to address trafficking in this community.

We’re part of a coalition of Stark County direct service providers who are coming to the table to collaborate and share solid information.

And we’re in awe of how people of faith are answering the call to put faith into action through financial support and direct volunteer service on the ground. As a result, we’ve expanded outreach to the trafficked and vulnerable in Stark County, and we plan to open two new drop-in centers in 2020.

Do you want to end sex trafficking in our community? Join those who are already learning and speaking the truth about what trafficking really looks like. And love your neighbor. Together, we can grow a network and build a movement that crosses the country.

This article was featured as Opinion: Join Effort to End Sex Trafficking on cantonrep.com.