Church leaders and congregants from around the Coulee Region gathered at English Lutheran Church in La Crosse last week to mark the International Day of Prayer and Awareness for Human Trafficking.

The service featured music and singing led by Barbara Martin-Stanley from the Onalaska Methodist Church and readings and reflections from representatives of local Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Baha’i fellowships.

The Rev. Jennifer Clemmerson of New Beginnings in La Crosse recounted her personal experience with abduction and emphasized that trafficking is not just a global problem. She said that in 2017 in La Crosse, 33 people reported being victims of trafficking. Last year, 21 people self-identified as trafficked.

Marlene Weisenbeck of the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery noted that local figures may be higher since trafficking is often masked by drug abuse or domestic violence.

Nationwide, the National Human Traffic Hotline tallied 8,759 cases in 2017, representing more than 10,000 individual victims.

After the event, the Rev. Mark Solyst of English Lutheran indicated that the coalition of church sponsors met their goals for the event which included, asking God to intercede in the trafficking problem and raising awareness. “There’s also an educational component,” Solyst said, “to more fully understand the menace of trafficking.”

“The more we hear, the more we know,” Solyst said. “I know more than I did a month ago.”

Experts say that human trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime activity in the U.S. making it a $32 billion business. For more information, contact the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery at www.fspa.org or to report a problem, The La Crosse Emergency Services at 785-9634.

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