Waynette Bridwell loves her four grandchildren and the “ton” of nieces and nephews in her family.
And she feels it’s her responsibility as a former nurse to alert them to the perils of human trafficking – and not only the young people of her family, but everyone who lives near her “backwoodsy” area of Zanesville, Ohio.
As one of six members of the Southern Ohio Synodical Women’s Organization anti-sex trafficking committee, she speaks in classrooms, seminars and churches about human trafficking.
“I want people to be aware of the issue,” Bridwell said. “People need to start to know what the signs and symptoms are. And then they need to call the anti-trafficking hotline number if they see something. You don’t have to be right – just suspicious.”
A Truckers Against Trafficking group broke up a 13-state trafficking ring recently by calling in suspicious activity, she said.
Human trafficking a priority
At its 2014 and 2017 triennial conventions, Women of the ELCA voting members vowed to make fighting human trafficking a priority. In 2014, a memorial requested that each synodical women’s organization assemble a task force to address human sex trafficking, an issue that has been a focus at every Women of the ELCA triennial convention since 2002.
Bridwell said she was at a retreat where prayers were being offered at the closing. “People were praying for their friends and family, and I asked if I could pray about human sex trafficking.
“They said, ‘Of course,’ but I thought, ‘We have to do more than pray.’”
In the rural area of Ohio where she lives, Bridwell said, many people have never heard of the issue.
“But I tell people, ‘It happens here. Even in rural areas.’”
Human Trafficking happens here too
“Human Trafficking Happens Here Too” is the message of three billboards the task force erected in rural Ohio: one each in Guernsey and Belmont counties, and one on the boundary between Monroe and Noble counties.
The money for the billboards came from a grant from the Deaconess Community, thanks to Sr. Sally Burk, who chairs the Southern Ohio SWO’s anti-trafficking committee, said Bridwell, a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Zanesville.
But it was Bridwell who worked out a great deal with the billboard advertising company: $1,200 for three billboards for one month.
The grant from the Deaconesses paid for one month of advertising, she said. But after seeing the billboards, people have come forward with gifts to keep them up through October.
Bridwell hopes to work with other faith communities in her area to widen her circle of those working against human trafficking. Her SWO’s committee is holding a seminar October 19 at the Tree of Life Ministry Center in Columbus. Speakers include Theresa Flores, a survivor and founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.), a nonprofit organization that works to help prevent sex trafficking, and Michelle Hannan, anti-human trafficking director with The Salvation Army.
“Right now, for us, it’s all about awareness,” Bridwell said. “Some people I talk to don’t think it exists here. But it happens everywhere.”
The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.
Terri Lackey is director for communication for Women of the ELCA.
Photo by Waynette Bridwell of one of the billboards erected in her area.