Jade Ford, senior social work major from Dallas, met with people from the Abilene community and board members from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, on Jan. 13 to form a coalition against sex trafficking, as well as to provide support for victims.
“Many believe Abilene to be a safe little college town, which it can be, but over the past year we have seen a few human trafficking cases,” said Ford. “For one, it’s due to the grave amount of individuals that we consider ‘at risk’ that Abilene unfortunately possess, but also due to I-20. I-20, essentially, is bringing it to our doorsteps.”
Ford said that while sex trafficking isn’t as prominent here as in bigger cities, like Houston or Dallas, it still happens, and the coalition will help when Abilene does have victims. Ford also said Abilene’s homeless population, and individuals living in poverty, are those most at risk, which is what traffickers look for. Abilene doesn’t currently have an agency for victims of trafficking or a place to keep the statistics, so a coalition – an interdisciplinary group including law enforcement, social workers, nurses, teachers and advocates – should be put in place, said Ford.
“Having a specific protocol, a specific task force, and building relationships with all of the service providers these victims will need to encounter on their road to safety and recovery could be extremely beneficial,” Ford said. “The coalition is of course a work in progress and plans to meet again soon to begin the layout of what procedures look like when Abilene encounters victims of trafficking.”
Ford is a certified victims advocate for Taylor County, which means she is on-call at Hendrick Medical Center whenever Abilene receives a sexual assault case. Her motivation to form the coalition was her love for humans, the understanding of the dangers of trafficking and of the effects that that life leaves, the realization of service gaps for victims in this and neighboring communities, and her overall mission to see people thrive.
“I’ve seen terrible things,” Ford said. “Kids as young as two and elderly adults as old as in their 80s. If sexual assault and abuse are so prominent here in Abilene, why wouldn’t human trafficking be as well? That’s what got me interested.”