Cleveland non-profit raises awareness of human trafficking in Bradley County
Sex trafficking—it's a worldwide problem, and Cleveland is, by no means, immune. That's why, last Tuesday, Cleveland organization Willowbend Farms hosted Do It For Her, an informational event to raise awareness of human trafficking. Screened in the Rose Lecture Hall of the Humanities building, the group played the documentary The Playground, a film that follows the life of a young girl who becomes trapped in the human trafficking industry.
President and co-founder of Willowbend Farms Sarah McKinnon followed up the documentary with a talk that explained how the issue affects the Cleveland community and how others can do their part to protect them from this sad reality.
“Three years ago, I watched a transfer take place of girls, right here in Cleveland,” McKinnon said. “It paralyzed me in the moment. When God called me to be involved with human trafficking, I didn’t know what to do or how to recognize signs that are right in front of us every single day.”
With this important issue, McKinnon hopes to give the community resources to recognize signs of these events happening in the community to prevent these horrible actions in the future.
This semester, a group of public relations students have come alongside Willowbend Farms to raise awareness of theses issues and the mission of the organization.
Assistant professor of public relations Mark Vermilion has been the connecting point between these students and Willowbend Farms.
“When people think of human trafficking, they usually think of Thailand or big cities in the U.S., but it’s happening in Cleveland. Willowbend wants to be the local answer to human trafficking,” Vermilion said. “They provide a safe space for women who are coming out of sex slavery to be restored, get back on their feet and give them back their life.
Law enforcement and Chattanooga organizations find women who have been forced into the industry, sending them to Willowbend Farms to begin a new life. The organization provides an aftercare program for these women. This two-year program provides a place to live, professional emotional support, educational help and job-skill assessment, specifically constructed for each individual within the program.
Senior public relation major and business and communications minor Taylor Woodruff serves as the student leader for this partnership with Willowbend Farms.
“Our purpose is to educate Lee’s campus on the growing issue,” Woodruff said. “We hope for the organization to partner with student organizations in the future.”
For more information on Willowbend Farms or to become involved, visit www.willowbendfarms.org or visit them on Facebook @WillowbendFarms.