ANNA - The March to End Human Trafficking is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. Oct. 3 at Sue Rattan Elementary School, 1221 S. Ferguson Parkway, in Anna.
The event will start with remarks from experts on the topic. From there, attendees will march to nearby Natural Springs Park.
"The whole point of this is to raise awareness in our community that (human trafficking) doesn’t just happen in big cities or border towns," organizer Bridgette Huitt said. "It happens everywhere, even in our own community."
She cites a recent case where a sex trafficking victim jumped out of a semi-truck on a highway.
There was also a large ring of more than 800 pedophiles recently busted that included people from across the United States and the United Kingdom. This was a major accomplishment, but it took two years to pull off, highlighting the need for more help to address the issue.
While the march may only last a short distance, Huitt believes it will still be effective in getting the message out.
When marchers get to the park, those who feel comfortable doing so will be asked to briefly lower their masks. They will then in unison call out, "Humans are not for sale. Our kids are not for sale." This action was chosen instead of a moment of silence to highlight the fact that victims of human trafficking have been forced to remain silent for too long.
"We want them to understand that they are being heard," Huitt said. "Usually, if traffickers see a community banded together, they really back off from that community."
Huitt first became active in the fight to combat human trafficking through her work looking for missing women and children. She had family members who had gone missing.
In the course of her work, she began to learn that a significant number of people who had gone missing were actually victims of trafficking rings.
While there are victims of all ages, she was particularly moved by the fact that many of them were teenagers or younger. As she dove deeper into her investigations, she learned about websites where pedophiles spoke openly about their crimes.
Huitt began reporting her findings to the FBI.
"I have spoken on the phone with the local FBI office in Dallas and they do not take these reports lightly," she said. "I know people sometimes think they aren’t doing anything because these sites remain up, but they are. They want to actually make arrests and take them down."
One of the messages she hopes people will learn from the rally is how they can help. It starts by looking for the signs of human trafficking and knowing how to react.
For example, if you see a well-dressed person with a companion who seems more haggard or malnourished, that could be a victim.
In that situation, the best thing you can do is contact local authorities. Never confront the person directly, but if you can follow without being noticed, try to get a license plate number or make and model of the vehicle.
In the era of mask-wearing, it can be even more challenging to identify people in distress. This means people need to be hyper-vigilant in looking for signs of distress or looks of fear in people’s eyes.
As for cybercrimes, Huitt emphasizes that if people come across questionable material online, they should not report it to the website. Oftentimes this causes criminals to shut down one site and start a similar one with a new name.
Instead, the information should be reported to cybertip.com. This gets it directly to the FBI via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Putting a rally together during these unusual times proved to be challenging. Huitt worked with local authorities to formulate a plan that could best spread her message.
Now’s she’s hopeful that area residents will rally to the cause that is dear to her heart.
"I appreciate the community (being) willing to get involved," she said.