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Opinion | Alabama Epstein? It happens here all the time

Rachel Blackmon Bryars

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As the nation learns more about the salacious life and mysterious death of billionaire and serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, it’s important to remember his crimes are far from uncommon.

In fact, they happen all the time.

Even in Alabama.

It’s a problem that experts agree is growing, though exact numbers are difficult to quantify, according to researchers at the University of Alabama who conducted a study estimating there were more than 900 potential survivors of human trafficking across the state in 2017 alone, and that more than half the victims were minors.

Awareness is also growing as alliances of lawmakers, advocates, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors grapple with stopping the problem and educating community members.

It’s going to take a concerted effort, from everyone, to combat human trafficking. Here are just a few tips:

No. 1: Learn the paths into human trafficking

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“Every single victim we’ve encountered has some type of [economic, social, or emotional] vulnerability that has been exploited by the trafficker,” said Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge for the Department of Homeland Security Investigations team in Birmingham during a recent deep-dive discussion of human trafficking on 1819 podcast.

Traffickers are very good at grooming their victims and “luring girls into this world,” often by developing an online relationship and developing a strong “father figure” bond before slowly coercing them into sex trafficking, according to Gilmer.

“These are young ladies who have had their childhoods stolen from them,” said Carolyn Potter, executive director of The Wellhouse, a residential treatment facility near Birmingham for sexually exploited trafficking victims.

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Potter said in an 1819 interview that every case is different; however, there are commonalities among victims’ stories. Victims tend to be runaways, neglected or abused children, and at-risk youth aging out of foster care who become easy prey for traffickers.

“A typical scenario would be a young lady who was first [sexually] victimized as a child,” has experienced “complex trauma,” which means traumatic events have repeatedly happened, often daily, throughout much of her life, and that substance use is either forced upon her or is used as a coping mechanism, Potter said.

“I ended up doing so much drugs because he was requiring me to do so much,” said Dixie Shannon in a new Alabama Public Radio series about human trafficking in Alabama.

Shannon was a runaway whose coercion into a life of commercial sex began at 17-years-old and included dependence upon her trafficker and punishment for not performing.

“I couldn’t take a shower without making a certain amount of money,” Shannon told APR’s Pat Duggins. “I couldn’t eat … I couldn’t rest. …And, I ended up getting to a point where I was either going to kill myself because I’m going to overdose on these drugs, or he’s going to kill me.”

No. 2: Learn where the real risk is

Parents misplace their fear by not allowing kids to play alone or outside for fear of kidnapping, according to Gilmer, who said statistics show kidnapping is exceedingly rare.

“The biggest mistakes we make in society today is the boogey-man syndrome,” Gilmer said. “That there’s a creep out there on every block, around every corner, on every aisle in Walmart or Target that’s getting ready to snatch our kids.”

The real threat, he said, is on cell phones and the Internet – where predators know how to get in touch with our kids within 20-30 keystrokes.

The risks aren’t just of becoming preyed upon. There are risks of becoming the predator.

Gilmer said there is no typical profile and that the “Johns” come from every walk of life and socioeconomic level, although DHS is collecting data in partnership with advocacy group Trafficking Hope to understand any trends.

“We do know that all of the Johns, I think statistically probably 100 percent, all had or have a problem with pornography,” said Gilmer. “That’s how it starts for them and then it progresses over time. They need something more and then they get to the point they start purchasing sex.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall said in an 1819 podcast interview that the 2014 arrest of a well-respected former Guntersville High School soccer coach for child sexual abuse and human trafficking was “the moment” that he first realized the scope and significance of the problem in Alabama and the importance of the human trafficking statutes being developed at the time.

“That was [the case] for me that… not only broadened my awareness of the traditional view of the pimp and the prostitute and the Johns, but also showed that children themselves are victims of human trafficking,” Marshall said.

No. 3: Recognize the signs of human trafficking and help at-risk youth

“It’s very hard to encounter a person who is being trafficked and not realize that something is going on, even if you can’t identify what it is right away,” Potter said.

Here are some of the warning signs that someone may be a human trafficking victim that are listed on The Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force website:

– Inability or fear to make eye contact.

– Presence of an older male or “boyfriend” who seems controlling.

– Shows signs of physical, mental, or sexual abuse.

– Inappropriately dressed for the age of the child (sexy, low cut, too short).

– Is not in school or has significant gaps in schooling.

– Demeanor is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous.

Also, Potter said she has never seen a victim who did not have some kind of branding or tattoo, such as a young woman who came to The Wellhouse with the street address of her trafficker tattooed on her forehead.

“If you see something, say something,” Potter said. “It’s not going to hurt to make a report. If you’re wrong, that’s okay, but if you’re not, you may have saved a life.”

And if you are in a position to help at-risk youth by becoming a foster parent, there are thousands of Alabama children in need of safe and stable care.

“If we could make this group not the most ‘preyed upon,’ but the most ‘prayed upon,’ what a different outcome we’d have,” said Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries President and CEO Rod Marshall in an 1819 interview.

“If we were prayer warriors for this vulnerable population,” Marshall said, “if we were the safety net, if we refused to allow children to go through life with no margin for safety, if we could be there for these families to keep them from disintegrating and needing to put their children in foster care … the predators might find themselves having far fewer victim pools to draw from.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888–373–7888.

To report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement, please call 866-347-2423.

And if you need help here in Alabama, please call the Wellhouse’s rescue and recovery helpline at 800–991–0948.

Together, we can put a stop to human trafficking in Alabama.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at [email protected]or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars

 

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Opinion | State Sen. Will Barfoot should be highly commended

Glenn Henry

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State Senator Will Barfoot should be highly commended, for sponsoring Senate Bill 105, in which military families, require school districts, operating magnet schools, to accept enrollment applications, for military children, where families have received transfer orders, to Alabama military installations.

Additionally, Sen. Barfoot (R) Pike Road is sponsoring Senate Bill 106, called the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, formation of charter schools, on or near military installations, with focus on serving military dependents, authorized. Tenure for certificated teachers temporarily serving in charter schools are preserved.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, recently correctly stated that his goal is to “make Alabama the most military-friendly state, in the country.”

Over one year ago, former President and Commander of Air University, Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, advised the public, that 56 percent of students attending the Air War College, were not bringing their families; due to a poorly performing local school system, that was under intervention, and take over status. Mandatory, federal laws, state that adequate, and sufficient education must be provided, to kids of military families, by the Local Education Agency, which is, the Montgomery Public School System.

Gov. Kay Ivey drafted, an outstanding tentative education initiative package, of ideas, by reaching out to Lt. Gen. Cotton, to ask the families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, to provide their list of wanted items. The Governor’s directives to her staff, were very clear; provide the families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, with everything, they put, on their list.

The governor also ensured, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford were notified. Emergency education funding was requested. Additionally, the acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, and the Chief of Staff Air Force Gen. David Goldfein were contacted.

Through Gov. Ivey reaching out to Lt. Gen. Cotton, the education committees were formed; with successful results. Currently, the military children at Maxwell-Gunter, are attending schools out of district, in counties such as Elmore, Autauga, and Pike Road City Schools, regardless if they live on base, or off base. Families living at the family camp; within recreational vehicles, may enroll their kids, in the on-base school. Faculty, professors and instructor kids, may enroll out of district.

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It is critical that SB-105, and SB 106 pass, successfully, through the House and Senate.  Additionally, Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov Ainsworth and Sen. Barfoot, are exactly right; on their current direction, and their proper and correct road, being travelled, due to the following reasons.

Today, the Montgomery Public School system, is still under intervention, and this education system, is not moving forward. Other military bases in Alabama, are facing similar situations, in which the Local Education Agencies, are not providing, adequate and sufficient education, outside the military base gates.

The on-base Maxwell-Gunter Elementary and Middle School, and its principal Mr. Paul Hernandez, have been deemed, Top-Notch School, and Top Principal, over recent years according to the Department of Defense Education Activity Americas.

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I taught at Maxwell-Gunter, for two years, and I never had to send, one student to the office. The Parent Teacher Association at Maxwell-Gunter, is the best on the planet. I thought the parents were teachers. They are in the schools, from sun up, to sun down, helping to mold, and shape our next generation of airmen, wingmen, astronauts, scientists, doctors and future Air Force Academy cadets.

Many military parents, in private, are very concerned, their kids have the options, and opportunities to attend the very best schools, not the worst schools. Parents do not want their kids in unsafe environments, nor in class rooms, where the students are cursing at the teachers daily.

Over the years our Air Force Secretaries, Colonels and Generals, have spoiled us, by providing, the best of everything. Education is taken very seriously, within our military services. Our Air Force, and our Space Force, can’t remain number one, throughout the world, without the best education, top training, most effective hardware, and fastest software systems.

At this juncture, the only adequate, safe and sufficient schools, that I see in Montgomery, are a few of the magnet schools, private schools, or home schooling. A new Military Magnet school on the military base, or near the base, would be awesome.

I would also highly suggest, that the appropriate standards, of the Military Magnet schools, be set at the same high standards, and the current top cultures, of the Department of Defense Education Activity for K-12. Due to their proven excellence in education, and their top-notch academic advancements. Many students at Maxwell-Gunter, are highly performing, and virtually mastering, robotics in grades, 6 through 8.

Therefore, we should commend, Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov. Ainsworth, and Sen. Barfoot; and support them in their efforts, in making our state the most military friendly in the nation. Their initiatives, will provide, much needed assistance, not only for Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, but for all military installations in Alabama. Our ultimate goal is to attract military families to our Great State, and retain the current military families—not run them away.

This one, we must get right. Other states would Love to have our military families. Our state leaders are making sure, that we do everything, in our power to keep them. We can’t let other states, out work us, nor out hustle us, through their better education and training systems.

Just as a matter of information, in working with Gov. Ivey, in an unofficial capacity over the years. A lot of top Department of Defense officials, and top Air Force and Space Force leaders, along with local Air Force leadership, such as Lt. Gen. Cotton, and  42nd ABW Commander Col. Patrick Carley; have been very gracious, in supporting Maxwell-Gunter families, and our regional communities, to ensure that we continue to have the best education, and training systems.

Our top Department of Defense, civilian and military leaders; and our Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, Chief of Staff Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, have always, had our Six, and we have always, had their Six. There is absolutely, no doubt about that!

Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.

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Opinion | The workforce superhighway—stay clear of malfunction junction

Ed Castile

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As you merge onto the Workforce Superhighway in search of that dream career, don’t venture into dead ends or get lost at malfunction junction. Instead, look for signs directing you to AlabamaWorks!

There are several ways to enter the workforce superhighway and get on the right path. On-ramps include the Alabama Department of Labor’s Career Center System with offices placed strategically in 50 locations, or via one of Alabama’s Community Colleges that are conveniently located across the state. Many will enter the workforce highway via one of the seven regional workforce councils representing Alabama’s seven workforce regions. While others will enter through one of Alabama’s existing employers through work-based learning initiatives, such as the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.

The great news is that there are thousands of job openings in all sectors of Alabama’s economy including aviation, forestry, chemical, automotive, bio-medical and information technology. Alabama companies are paying premium wages for employees with a positive attitude, good work ethic and the appropriate skill sets. AlabamaWorks! provides a roadmap to these great jobs and it’s just two clicks away. (www.alabamaworks.com)

Remember when career resource programs were siloed, loaded with government acronyms and frankly, not user friendly? In those days, to the unexperienced eye, all workforce roads led to nowhere. Even harder to understand were the state and federal programs which were designed to help, and yet always seemed to be just out of reach. It was as if one road led to another road, which led to another, and eventually people careened off the highway at malfunction junction.

To help untangle the malfunction junction, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her Success Plus plan mandating that Alabama’s workforce programs work together to help citizens find credentials of value that will lead to a self-sustaining career. The goal: 500,000 additional credentialed workers in the workforce by 2025. To succeed, workforce agencies are working towards becoming more user friendly, untying the complicated knots and cross-training staff on multiple programs. Therefore, when a citizen enters from any on-ramp on to the workforce highway, they will find that there are no detours or road blocks. Rather, they will find friendly and helpful workforce professionals ready to assist.

Credentials may be earned as a student completes their K-12 education, during college or as an apprentice. The credential may also be an occupational license or industry recognized certification needed as a job requirement, or to advance to the next level.  There are thousands of potential credentials available, and they can be stacked, sequenced and aligned in a progression of increasing skill to assist Alabamians as they travel the workforce superhighway.

Now that you are successfully navigating the superhighway, how do you know what a credential of value is and if it is legitimate? Gov. Ivey has appointed a group of professionals though the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP) to make sure the credentials available in Alabama are truly of value. When you successfully attain your credential of value, then what? You want to make sure your credential is added to the Alabama College and Career Exploration Tool (ACCET) being created for you to market your workforce profile online where employers are looking for employees with credentials. The ACCET is a digital resume that helps you find employers and employers find you. The ACCET is currently under development and will be available in the fall of 2020.

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The workforce superhighway has many intersections and AlabamaWorks! is the ever-evolving road map. This one-stop online workforce resource will turn malfunction junction into a distant memory. Happy motoring and stop by anytime,  www.alabamaworks.com is open 24-7.

Ed Castile, Deputy Secretary of Commerce
Workforce Development Division, Director of AIDT

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Opinion | The New Way Forward Act is an assault on our borders

Bradley Byrne

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A clear warning of how far to the extreme left the Democratic Party has moved is the recently introduced New Way Forward Act.  This immigration bill would totally uproot the rule of law, provide amnesty for illegals here, and import dangerous criminals into the United States.  By allowing foreign citizens who committed serious felonies to stay in our country, all Americans would be at risk.  And by granting new rights to illegal aliens, the New Way Forward Act would prevent our immigration officials from detaining most illegal immigrants.  Shockingly, over forty of my Democrat colleagues in the House have cosponsored this legislation.

We have long known that many on the far left have the goal of global open borders.  They do not appreciate that to keep our country prosperous and strong we must have real, enforceable borders.  Put another way, our country won’t be any different from the rest of the world if we eliminate our borders and let whoever wants here to enter.

Simply put, the New Way Forward Act aims to decriminalize illegal immigration altogether.  It would turn us into a sanctuary nation where anyone who desires entry can come in almost unchallenged.  It grants new rights to illegal border crossers that would effectively shut down our already overworked immigration courts.  For example, those detained for illegally entering would be entitled to an initial custody hearing within 48 hours, and detainees would be entitled to a new bond hearing every 60 days.  This is designed by the bill’s authors to be impossible!

The bill also includes provisions to block local law enforcement from performing immigration enforcement activities.  Why would we not want our law enforcement to actually enforce our laws?  Isn’t that what they are for?  This explains a lot of what some of my more liberal colleagues in Washington think about law and order.

Perhaps most shockingly, the New Way Forward Act removes certain felonies from consideration when considering whether detainees should be allowed entry to our country.  Why would we want to protect convicted felons from being deported?  This legislation would roll out a welcome mat for them.  The bill would even repeal laws that make illegal entry into the United States a crime.  Can you imagine the chaos this would bring?

This bill has one goal – open borders.  That’s why Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says this bill would “gut the rule of law” in the country.

I have been to our southern border.  I’ve seen firsthand the challenges facing our border patrol agents.  Without question, gutting our immigration laws would make their jobs tougher.  It would erode American safety and incentivize illegal immigration.  Yet Democrats overwhelmingly support sanctuary city laws that allow jurisdictions to refuse to enforce our immigration laws.  These sanctuary jurisdictions go further by stonewalling federal officials seeking to enforce our immigration laws.  But it gets even worse.  States like California have passed laws to grant driver licenses to illegal immigrants.  Shockingly, these laws could even automatically register illegal immigrants granted driver licenses the right to vote in elections!

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Last week I signed on as an original cosponsor of the Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act.  The premise of this bill is simple: if you are a sanctuary city blocking the enforcement of our federal immigration laws, you should be blocked from receiving federal money.  This bill would prevent states that issue driver licenses to illegal aliens from receiving important federal grants.

Unfortunately, common sense is something lacking in Washington.  I’m proud to be able to serve you by bringing Alabama values to the swamp.  I’ll continue working with President Trump to fight bills like the New Way Forward Act and to ensure our immigration policies serve and protect you, the American people.

 

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Opinion | We cannot allow Alabama to fall behind our neighbors

Fred McCallum

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As the Birmingham region enters a new decade, it is more important than ever in our increasingly connected world that Alabama’s largest city be equipped with modern wireless infrastructure that provides connectivity that powers opportunities for businesses and residents alike.

That is why the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) supports standardization of small cell deployment statewide – enhancing connectivity today as well as supporting 5G and technologies of the future.

Connectivity is a key issue in creating and sustaining a 21st century economy and workforce, connecting both urban and rural areas to enhanced broadband opportunities. Ongoing advancements in wireless broadband technologies are necessary to keep pace with consumer demand and are crucial to our state’s continued economic success. Without the ability to economically deploy the latest in wireless broadband infrastructure, we put at risk our ability to effectively compete in a digital economy.

The BBA has long supported increased access to broadband technology across the Birmingham region and the state of Alabama through our annual state and federal legislative agendas. Our support is reflected in our 2020 state legislative agenda, which lists this issue as a priority and specifically supports streamlining and standardizing the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, allowing wireless companies limited access to public Rights of Way for the deployment of small cells and establishing permit fee limitations for localities.

We join with key community organizations like the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce in supporting statewide legislation that simply standardizes the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, including broadband; allows entities providing wireless services, subject to existing applicable constitutional provisions, access to Rights of Way for the deployment of small cell equipment; and establishes permit fee guidelines for localities, allowing them to recover reasonable compensation while still encouraging broadband investment.

Small cell deployment is one way to ensure Birmingham and Alabama’s wireless infrastructure remains competitive, allowing both businesses and residents to thrive. More than half of U.S. states have already passed legislation that welcomes investment and removes barriers to deploying wireless infrastructure.

This new decade and the ones after it will require us to be connected to ensure the best for the Birmingham region’s businesses and its residents. Supporting small cell deployment is key as we look towards the future, continually making sure that, as the world becomes more and more connected, we in Birmingham and in Alabama do the same.

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We encourage state legislators to support this effort so we as a region and as a state can stay competitive in an ever-changing world.

 

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