Wheeling City Council Declares January Human Trafficking and Stalking Awareness Month

Wheeling City Council recently declared January an awareness month for human trafficking and stalking thanks to efforts by the Upper Ohio Valley Sexual Assault Help Center.

City council passed two proclamations naming this month Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Stalking Awareness Month at the body’s meeting Jan. 2. The proclamations coincide with national recognition of both issues during January.

“The intent was to help bring attention to issues like stalking and human trafficking that rarely get the attention they warrant,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “It is also very important for local residents, whether they are victims themselves or simply suspicious of such behavior against third parties, to be aware of resources.”

Ashley Carpenter, executive director of the Sexual Assault Help Center, said she approached the city about issuing the proclamations to help residents learn about the issues and recognize victims’ services in the area. Such services are offered at organizations including the center, YWCA Wheeling and the Harmony House Children’s Advocacy Center.

“The biggest thing is to be aware of the services,” Carpenter said. “So if you fear something or you have a question, call us and say, ‘Hey, this could be happening to me,’ and then we can kind of go from there and help them along that path.”

The center is a nonprofit organization that provides services to victims of sexual violence, such as sexual assault, sexual abuse, stalking, child sexual abuse and human trafficking, she said. Those services include advocacy, supportive counseling, support groups and a 24/7 hotline to help victims and survivors.

“We can go with them to different places in the community if needed to give them that emotional support,” Carpenter said of survivors. “It’s accompaniment through the whole entire process. So whenever they disclose, whenever they would like services, we will provide support until they are done.”

For stalking, Carpenter said it typically happens through violence between partners and is more prevalent now more than ever due to social media. Those affected can contact the center and the Wheeling YWCA, which help with protecting and accompanying victims, she said.

The two organizations, in addition to the Harmony House, 2000 Eoff St., also work collaboratively to help victims of human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Hotline has received 358 calls in West Virginia with 99 cases of human trafficking since 2007, a statistic cited in the city’s proclamation.

“I think one of the things the community needs to be aware of is that it is happening,” Carpenter said of human trafficking in the Northern Panhandle. “We’re seeing it happening with young children and we’re seeing it happening familially, which means parents or immediate family are using a child for something in an exchange.”

Carpenter said she’s thankful Elliott and council made the proclamations.

“The proclamation process was so simple and easy and they were so willing to do it with us, which was phenomenal,” she said. “It’s a huge public awareness that they’re allowing us to do, a consensus that that whole entire group of individuals are making sure that awareness is being done.”

The hotline for the Sexual Assault Help Center, which serves Ohio, Hancock, Brooke, Marshall and Wetzel counties, can be reached at 1-800-884-7242. All services the center provides are offered free of charge.

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