The founder and director of a local nonprofit organization wants to educate the public about human trafficking and make people aware that the practice is happening right here in Beaufort County.
Sheila Roemeling of Fresh Start Healing Heart is organizing a fundraiser, Feast for Freedom: One Night You Can Make a Difference, planned for 6-8 p.m. Nov. 16 at the North End Pour House on Hilton Head Island.
The event will include food, music, an auction and most importantly, valuable information about human trafficking. The Pour House is located at 95 Mathews Drive.
According to the Fresh Start Healing Heart website, human trafficking is “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”
Fresh Start Healing Heart works to help survivors of human trafficking by giving them a safe place to live and connecting them with the services they need to begin the healing process.
“Our mission says we walk alongside them,” Roemeling said. “That’s what we do, as well as mentoring them. We’re helping them through each situation, learning how to handle things in a different way, learning how to work through the stress level, the anxiety.”
Roemeling said in order to help victims of human trafficking, people in the community need to know the signs and they need to get to know other people in the community. Victims are often too ashamed to ask for help, but if asked the right questions, they just might open up.
Roemeling shared some of the signs that someone might be a victim of human trafficking. Those include: anxious or paranoid behavior, lack of eye contact, not being able to speak for themselves, responding to questions as if the person has been coached, not being able to show identifying documents, unexplained injuries, isolation from loved ones and drug addiction.
Additional signs seen in youth include: falling asleep in class, truancy, a drop in grades, a drastic change in appearance and a child who has two phones.
Roemeling said the average age of sex trafficking victims is 12-14 worldwide. She encourages parents to talk with their children about human trafficking, and to keep an eye on their phones and social media accounts.
Want to help? The organization needs volunteer mentors, host families and helpers to put together gift baskets for Christmas. For more information on Fresh Start Healing Heart or to make a donation, visit freshstarthealingheart.org or call 843-338-8896.
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.