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Human trafficking in Hamilton County focus of symposium



"This is a hard topic, and some people want to ignore it and say that it is not happening or can't bring themselves to thinking about it," said Lauren Baney, founder of A Better Tomorrow. "I sometimes read stories and can't even imagine how someone could even think about doing something like that to another person. But human trafficking is not going to go away unless we all do something about it because it's that hidden."

Baney was a student at Ball State University when she learned about the horrors of human trafficking. She joined Ball State's International Justice Mission chapter, but one weekend, she decided she wanted to do more to help those in need.

Baney, who is now studying to receive a masters of public health at Indiana University, started A Better Tomorrow four years ago as a way to educate and engage with community members in order to end human trafficking.

On March 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Christ the Savior Lutheran Church in partnership with A Better Tomorrow will host the fourth annual Hope for Human Trafficking Symposium. Ascent 121, the only agency in Indiana that specializes in long-term trauma recovery for teenage human trafficking victims, and the Lutheran Child and Family Services are also in the partnership.

Baney said the goal of the event is to educate students and parents about human trafficking, the signs to look out for and how to protect children from predators.

"I want them to know that it happens here," Baney said. "I want them to know what to look for, how they can maybe spot it ... And then I want students, not just their parents, but I want students to recognize that it could happen to them. It could happen to their friends, especially with how prevalent social media is in our everyday lives."

The symposium will feature two sets of breakout sessions, a panel discussion, live music and a vendor exhibit.

Baney said that the event is free and open to the public, and everyone is invited to join.

"You don't have to be a Christian to come," she said. "I want people to realize that this is a social issue."

While the event is open to everybody, Pastor Libby Manning of Christ the Savior Lutheran Church is thrilled that the church is getting involved with trying to stop human trafficking.

"The church in society and community really does exist for the wellbeing of the community, that it is outward focused on partnering with God for God's mission in the world," she said. "And in my point of view, God's mission in the world is to bring about healing and fullness and hope and joy for all people, not just some people."

CEO of Ascent 121 Megan McGuire is also proud to be a sponsor of the event and hopes that the education will be beneficial for all the attendees.

"I hope that the broader community will have a better understanding of all of this and will be better equipped to keep their kids safe," McGuire said. "And I believe that the mental health professionals that will be attending will be better equipped to tailor their services to survivors. ... Being right here in Fishers is important because there's that sense of security that things like human trafficking can't happen in a place like Hamilton County, and the reality is that it happens all the time. And coming into an event like this will help families understand what human trafficking looks like in their area and how to keep their kids safe from that."

McGuire said that Ascent 121 served 110 girls last year, and all of the girls were born and raised in Central Indiana.

Manning hopes that attendees of the event will not only gain information that will keep children safe, but that they will also connect with agencies who are fighting against human trafficking. She also wants people to learn about how consumerism, such as buying coffee, chocolate and cotton, can contribute to human trafficking. Baney said she hopes that this event will open people's eyes about human trafficking and the misconceptions, such as how it does not just take place internationally, does not just involve immigrants and that people can end it

"There are so many people on the streets," she said, "who desperately need us to say yes and [need] us to go out and find them and be the voice for them because they can't. And that it's really going to take all of us together to really put ... an end to it all together." 


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