Rebecca Bender speaks at a podium with a slide show presentation behind her

Rebecca Bender discusses her experiences with human trafficking at a talk hosted at the Lawrence Public Library on Feb. 4. 

Following human trafficking awareness month in January, local organizations continue spreading awareness about the global issue and its effects within the Lawrence community. 

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt collaborated with local anti-trafficking organizations to host two talks with human trafficking survivor Rebecca Bender on Feb. 4 at the Lawrence Public Library and the Cider Gallery. The Lawrence Anti-Trafficking Taskforce and Education Association (LATTE) and The Willow Domestic Violence Center helped organize the events. 

In both venues, Bender talked about her history of human trafficking to an audience of over 100 attendees, Averill said.

Unlike previous years, Bender's talk was the only community event LATTE helped put on for human trafficking awareness month. 

Becca Spielman, a LATTE board member since 2016, said this was because University of Kansas students had been away for the majority of the month on holiday and the winter weather restricted attendance. 

Still, Spielman said the program worked throughout the past month to raise awareness on the misconceptions of human trafficking within the Lawrence community. 

“This year was the first year that we took more of a strategic approach [to human trafficking awareness month],” Spielman said. “Instead of hosting events for the sake of events, we wanted to think about who are some communities we haven’t been able to connect with yet and what can we do to really build long term partnerships with them.”

In January, the KLWN radio station interviewed LATTE on its work and the current reality of trafficking in Lawrence. After that, the organization worked with Lawrence Free State High School to put on an interactive event in which students walk through a scenario where they put themselves in the shoes of human trafficking victims.

“You are given a persona and a scenario, and then you walk through it, making decisions as if you were that person,” Spielman said.

These events help draw attention to the reach the effects of human trafficking have in smaller cities and communities, Spielman said. 

“We assume that [human trafficking] is in much larger communities. We don’t assume that these things are happening here,” Spielman said. “And we certainly don’t assume that these things are happening to people we know and care about.”

Will Averill, director of communications at The Willow, said there were 84 survivors of human trafficking in Douglas County in 2018.

Any person with knowledge related to human trafficking can contact The Willow, which can provide emergency services for victims in a crisis, including shelter for 30 days, Averill said.

“Our goal is to empower survivors to help rebuild and regrow new lives and a new future,” Averill said. “What we do is aim to look at the cycle of violence and break it at all points along the chain.”

Edited by Madeleine Rheinheimer