OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – Opelika city leaders want all city employees, first responders, and families to be enraged and engaged in the fight against human trafficking. The city is working to create a Trafficking Free Zone through education and outreach, and you can get involved.

Right now, predators are online looking for their next victim to traffic. But, unfortunately, no family is immune, says Kathryn Gutherie, founder of the non-profit Worthy Squared.

“We are more specific for sex trafficking, and we have had boots on the ground in this area for four years. We have recovery and restoration, which are for those already in it. Then what is important to me is prevention, through education and awareness because right now on the internet there are predators online after our children,” said Gutherie.

The city is working with the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking to create a Trafficking Free Zone. The initiative focuses on stopping traffickers and buyers, reducing demand for sex slaves, and helping victims escape. The Trafficking Free Zone program is implemented in collaboration with community members and leaders, law enforcement, businesses, schools, healthcare organizations, churches, and the media, all while using technology to reach buyers and victims on a massive scale. The program helps communities come together to arrest and prosecute sex buyers instead of the victims who are being sold, educates people on sex trafficking, and uses technology and research to reduce demand.

“First of all, we are going to train all of our city employees. That training will bring awareness for the things to look for because we have so many employees out and about throughout the city all times of day and night. It gives us those city employees who become a set of eyes to look for these things,” said Chief Shane Healey.

More in-depth training will be provided to all first responders and investigators with resources through the Attorney General’s Office and the task force on human trafficking. Everyone is urged to get enraged, engaged, and educated by families, businesses, churches, schools.

“I will talk to three people, or thirty or three hundred. We also need parents to be involved with what their children are doing online,” said Gutherie.

Chief Healey says the program fits well with the “Together Opelika” campaign.

“It’s just another way to bring people together to make us all safer,” said Healey.

Most importantly, parents need to be engaged with what their children are doing and who they are interacting with online and in person.

Ignorance is not bliss. Click HERE to access short, informative, online training videos about human trafficking. The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking training program offers industry-specific human trafficking content designed to educate and engage professionals, advocates, parents, and community members. Developed by experts within each industry, the training are strategically designed to increase awareness about human trafficking, advance the participant’s ability to identify those who are being victimized, and deliver tangible methods for participants to get engaged in combating trafficking.

The hidden nature of child sex trafficking makes it nearly impossible to know how many U.S. victims there may be. Sex trafficking victims (those who are compelled through force, fraud, or coercion) are all genders, are children and adults, and are U.S. citizens as well as migrants and people who were brought here from abroad. While only 3,000 to 4,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year, some estimate that as many as 100,000 children in the U.S. are sex trafficking victims:

Of 10,615 victims reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2017, roughly one-third were minors, and a separate study of sex trafficking arrests found that 75% of cases had minor victims.

60% to 70% of trafficking victims come from child social services or the foster care system.

At least 1 in 7 runaway children are trafficked— one study of adult women in prostitution found that 56 percent were initially runaway youth.

Children who have experienced trauma are the most vulnerable to becoming trafficked, and their family’s financial and social circumstances often mean they have the fewest resources to get help.