By Crystal McGough, copy editor
CLAY – The Clay City Council unanimously passed a proclamation at its regular meeting on Dec. 17, 2019, declaring January 2020 Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Jessie Hardy, assistant chair of the Junior League of Birmingham Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, spoke to the council on the state’s trafficking statistics.
“Just to speak to Alabama statistics … the University of Alabama got a grant in 2017; it’s called BEAMS (Bringing Exploitation of Alabama Minors to a Stop),” Hardy said. “When they got that grant, that actually started the investigation of statistics in the state of Alabama. Unfortunately, those statistics came back that they estimated about 5,000 people are trafficked through Alabama monthly, and 57% of those are minors. That’s huge.
“That said, it’s important for the awareness to be out there, especially considering the World Games are coming to our community in 2021. The Junior League of Birmingham is committed to being on the forefront of this and bringing discussion … We’re committed to bringing change; we know it can’t happen in a day. We appreciate the city of Clay recognizing it.”
Hardy said that the average age of entry into the sex industry is between 12-15 years old, and 81% of victims are trafficked from social media.
“That’s how they lure vulnerable young adults: on musical.ly, on Facebook, on Instagram,” Hardy said.
Additionally, Hardy said that statistics show that 90% of women in prostitution are trafficked and not there by their own choice, and that 88% of victims have gone to a hospital or seen a medical professional and never been detected.
“It’s happening in our community; it’s happening in our state; it’s happening where we don’t even know it’s happening or we’re not willing to address it,” she said. “So just the fact that we’re being aware and discussing it, it helps children not to become (vulnerable). All children are vulnerable, especially teenagers … So if we’re willing to discuss this and identify it, we can probably help some of this vulnerable population before it becomes their life.”
Hardy said that one thing she is particularly passionate about is changing the dialogue surrounding sex work and human trafficking.
“How many times have we seen an article where ‘Prostitutes arrested: Local prostitution sting,’ or something like that; and now, our news media and our police are getting on board with calling it what they’re seeing: Human trafficking sting,” she said. “They’re going after the people who are making money on this.
“It’s a lot of changing the dialogue, because we see it all the time. And it’s not that we’re going to save the world. We’re not going to save every victim, and that’s not our goal. It’s just bringing awareness to let these victims know that they’re vulnerable, but we care.”
Proclamation 2019-10 states that “human trafficking us a very real problem facing the world today. Although it can take many forms … in every case it goes against the core principles of individual freedom and civil rights that our state and nation stand for. The City of Clay, Alabama is committed to ensuring that our community remains on the front lines in combating this deplorable crime.”
Hardy said that she understands not every trafficking victim may want to leave the industry, but her goal is that regardless of their circumstances, each and every one knows their worth and that they are cared for.
“Not every victim wants to get out, and that’s OK, but to know that they’re worthy enough, that we care enough; just that the information is out there, whether or not it’s your time or whether or not you’re ready,” she said. “It’s important that they know they’re worthy. You’re human and somebody shouldn’t own you.”
In other news, Councilor Becky Johnson announced that the Senior Center will be having it’s Christmas party on Friday, Dec. 20, which is also the last day the center will be open until Jan. 6, 2020.
City Manager Ronnie Dixon announced that construction on the splash pad will begin Jan. 13, 2020. The splash pad is expected to open the first weekend in April 2020, which is also Opening Weekend at the ballpark.
City Hall will be open on Christmas Eve until noon, and will re-open at noon on Dec. 26, 2019. City Hall will also close at noon on New Years Eve and will re-open with its normal hours on Jan. 2, 2020.
The council unanimously passed the following resolutions:
Resolution 2019-29, designating meeting times for City Council for the Year 2020
Resolution 2019-30, designating meeting times for P&Z for the Year 2020
Resolution 2019-31, designating meeting times for BZA for the Year 2020
Resolution 2019-32, designating meeting times for Library Board for the Year 2020
The next meeting of the Clay City Council will be Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019, at Clay City Hall. Pre-council begins at 6 p.m. and the regular council meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.