The “fresh start” bags will be stuffed with new clothes, gift certificates for food and personal care items for victims of human trafficking or abuse.
“As fast as we make them, they use them,” said White, founder of ICT S.O.S., a grassroots organization that combats trafficking and abuse.
The organization has put together nearly 250 of the bags so far in 2015 – more than three times the total for all of last year. Part of that disparity, White said, is because 2014 was the first year it provided the bags to victims of human trafficking or other kinds of abuse, and the group didn’t start until spring.
Yet, even taking that history into account, “It’s been a huge jump from last year to this year,” White said.
The number of sex-trafficking cases reported in Wichita has increased from 29 in 2014 to 44 so far this year – a jump of more than 50 percent.
The bags go to half a dozen local agencies that deal with victims of abuse and human trafficking: Via Christi Hospital St. Francis, the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, the Child Advocacy Center, the Wichita Children’s Home, the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center and Youthville.
“I think it speaks to the need – and not just trafficking, but abuse, neglect and sexual abuse,” White said of the growing demand for the bags. “There’s a huge need.”
Strange as it may sound, White sees the increased number of cases as good news.
“I don’t necessarily think that we’ve had more activity but that we’re getting better at identifying it, which means more victims are getting help,” she said.
Hospital employees at Via Christi Health and Wichita police officers have received training to better recognize potential victims of human trafficking. That recognition is paying off, White said.
The training is helping officers recognize “subtle cues or clues,” Capt. Jeff Weible said.
“Many times, you have a victim that doesn’t identify themselves as a victim,” he said. What they’ve become involved in, “they don’t think that’s a problem.”
It’s often a result of the “grooming” of victims by predators, Weible and White said.