When the United Methodist Church joins the nation in observing Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Friday, January 11, Mary Ann Shook will be leading a ministry that brings comfort and hope to victims of this crime. Shook is the program coordinator for the East Mississippi Sexual Assault Crisis Center, an agency of the Wesley House Community Center in Meridian that is supported by the Mississippi Annual Conference.
“Victims need a voice, and God called for me to be that voice and I will be that voice for as long as He needs me to be,” said Shook who has advocated anti-child abuse nearly two decades.
As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. Last year, Shook’s agency assisted more than 2,200 victims of sexual assault in Mississippi. She recalls one case of a girl around age 14.
“I was sitting with her and she gave me this look that no words can ever describe and stated to me, ‘Please don’t let them take me back to my mother. Tell the DHS lady that I want to stay where I am at.’ My hearts just breaks for her and I’m looking deep into her eyes and see this hurting little girl begging me to not send her back to her mother. I’m just sitting there praying God please let me say the right thing to her. The little girl takes my hand and starts to cry and says, ‘Ms. Mary Ann please don’t send me back, I don’t want to be sold to those people again.’ This child was a victim of human trafficking and her own mother sold her to 42 different men in one night.”
The Wesley House agency helps the victims by protecting them and standing by their side through the court process. Advocates also spend a great deal of time educating the public about human trafficking. Shook said Mississippi’s Interstate 20/59 is a corridor for trafficking and adds there are warning signs a young person might be in trouble.
“There are warning signs of abuse such as tattoo markings on the boys or girls as property of the pimp. Running away on a consistent basis, expensive clothing they can’t afford, older boyfriends, anything that is not of the norm for that child,” she explained.
According to Shook, Superbowl season is profit time for traffickers and that is why awareness is needed to protect young people.
She adds that people can help her agency and The Wesley House Community Center by making a monetary donation, volunteer and more importantly pray for the many hands of God working to stop abuse. To help, contact the center’s executive director Ginger Grissom at www.wesleyhousemeridian.org or call 601-485-4736.
Since 1904, Wesley House in Meridian has been in mission to underprivileged, neglected, and abused persons offering Christian relief, education, prevention and intervention of abuse, community welfare and social services, helping people learn to help themselves.