Mark Elam the Director of O.A.T.H, Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans, has worked to make the public aware of human trafficking in the state since 2008.
On Nov 17, 2010, Elam was given the Directors Community Leadership Award by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for his community work in helping the victims of human trafficking, said FBI Media Representative Clay Simmonds.
“We make headway against human trafficking, but its tough trying to combat the problem alone without individuals from the community,” Simmonds said.
OATH’s function is to act as the helping hand of the community, reaching out to the victims of human trafficking, who in many cases were put into prostitution at a young age.
“Our mission is to identify victims of human trafficking and get them into the necessary services. Women under the age of 18 are considered victims of human trafficking if they are found prostituting themselves,” Elam said.
“In prostitution there are women of age, who are volunteering to go into a lifestyle of illegal behavior, but there are also human trafficking victims who are identical to these prostitutes. These are the girls we attempt to rescue,” Elam said.
He said most of the older prostitutes on the street began as children.
He teaches law enforcement seminars on the subject of how to get victims of human trafficking into the proper treatment programs, medical care, and shelters so they could have a new lease on a life that is not spent shackled in a form of slavery.
Last Saturday he spoke at a luncheon at Central Presbyterian Church at NW. 50 and May Avenue. According to OATH’s website events calendar, he works human trafficking awareness seminars week in and week out, spreading his message of how to identify and treat victims of this practice, mainly to churches and faith based community organizations.
In 2003 a national study ranked Oklahoma in the top four states for human trafficking.
The US is a major demand country for human trafficking. The supply comes from poor countries, like The Philippians, Thailand, Nepal. We also have a huge Hispanic supply,” said Elam.
“Mexico released a report two months ago declaring that 100,000 girls per year are brought to America by being kidnapped or coerced into prostitution, brothels, stripping and pornography,” said Elam.
“The issue of demand is that people want slaves that are younger and younger. 20 years ago with the AIDS epidemic forced johns to go younger and younger girls,” he said.
“The average age of when a girl goes into prostitution in the US, is 12 or 13.”
His mission to help victims of sex trafficking started in 2003, when Elam worked with organizations in South Asia to rescue girls from brothels. His international organization Angel Eyes, sponsors safe houses and support organizations in many third world countries.
But this is not a third world problem when it is happening in Oklahoma City.
Elam said the recidivism rate for the people he helps is not good, especially for US Nationals. He attributes this to a learning curve in how to handle a situation that has been ignored by our culture until recently.
“When we rescue someone who was brought over from another country, they usually take this as an opportunity to thrive, you rarely see these people again,” he said.
“But if you work with an individual who was trafficked in a culture that they were born into, it is a revolving door. They are right back in the same culture that did the damage to them in the first place,” Elam said.
On Tuesday, Feb 15 at 10 a.m., OATH will be holding a public seminar at the Baptist Women’s Association at 3800 N. May Ave.