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Renew Hope 85 hosted a Hope Walk Saturday

VALLEY — About 75 people took to the street Saturday to raise awareness about human trafficking and child abuse.  The walk was sponsored by the Renew Hope 85 Initiative — a subsidiary of the Circle of Care for Families — and was titled Hope Walk.

The walked started at Langdale United Methodist Church’s The Oaks and went to Cleveland Road and turned around.

Signs were along the trail, featuring quotes from human trafficking survivors to remind the participants who they were walking for.

“Each of those survivors now has a story of freedom,” Adrian Carpenter, Renew Hope 85 coordinator said. “That is really what we wanted to highlight today.”

He said human trafficking is happening in all parts of the country, but everybody can help if they know the signs.

“If we keep our eyes open for things that don’t look right, and notify law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline of our concerns, then other people will be able to tell their stories as well,” he said.

Carpenter said there are many statistics when it comes to human trafficking that are staggering and overwhelming, but the more awareness that continues to get out about the issue, the more people are surviving. He said about 600 people were rescued from human trafficking situations last year, according to a University of Alabama study.

Carpenter said the organization is planning to continue training for churches and community groups. Renew Hope has performed several trainings in the past about how to spot human trafficking red flags to law enforcement, nurses and lawyers.

“We are hoping to grow this issue on high school and college campuses,” Carpenter said. “It is an issue that young adults tend to own, so we are really trying to get them to the table.”

Allen Bridges, who walked with his wife, Angela, and son, Eron, said part of the battle of fighting human trafficking is putting a voice out there.

“The more people you can draw attention to it, the better,” Bridges said. “Just walking down the street and people honking and trying to figure out what people are doing helps.”

After the walk, the Circle of Care Executive Director Jonathan Herston spoke briefly about the new superhero movie “Avengers: Endgame,” set to premiere in late April. He said it’s fun to watch those movies and dream of being a superhero, but by participating in events like a hope walk, they are being a more of a hero than they’ll ever know.

“Those who are involved with preventing child abuse and neglect, we get to be a part of seeing positive outcomes happen for kids and families,” he said.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Sex trafficking is defined as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion or any commercial sex act by a person under the age of 18.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in Alabama, there were 68 human trafficking cases reported and 184 calls in 2017. The most recent stats from the hotline from 2018 are as of June 30, and it shows 36 cases reported and 107 calls.

The hotline’s website shows 49 of those cases were sex trafficking in 2017, and there were 28 sex trafficking cases halfway through 2018.

Victims of sex trafficking can call 1-800-991-0948 for help.

Help can also be found with the hotline that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a live person on the phone, Diemar said. The hotline is also available in more than 200 languages. The national hotline can be contacted at 1-888-373-7888.