It was an occasion to bring the community together, but more importantly, to call attention to an important issue, one that often is shrouded in darkness. More than 500 people turned out at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park last Saturday for the fifth annual She’s My Sister 5K Walk/Run.
Saturday’s event raised more than $12,000 to combat human trafficking. The funds are earmarked for the Greater Philadelphia Salvation Army which provides support for trafficking victims, specifically those ages 18-24 who may have been victimized as juveniles, but are no longer served by juvenile support programs.
The event was sponsored by the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Mount Airy to raise awareness of the church’s anti-trafficking ministry and increase support for that effort.
The driving force behind the event is Dr. Ellyn Jo Waller the First Lady of the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Dr. Waller oversees an anti-human trafficking ministry at the church and serves with the Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition.
Waller, who is married to Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, the church’s senior pastor, has been researching the topic of human trafficking since 2005.
“At that time, I learned that the average age of entry for commercial sex work or sex trafficking, was 13 to 14,” she said. “At that time, our daughters were 13 and 14. That kind of compelled me to get involved, thinking that it could be anybody’s daughter. And we’ve done more research and realized that that’s the case.
“This cuts across all socio-economic lines, all races. That was the catalyst for my initial involvement.”
Waller’s ministry offers a three-sided approach for combating the trafficking issue. “We do awareness raising,” she said, “advocacy, and outreach.”
One of the issues that makes combating human traffic especially challenging is the belief that it affects only those living in poverty.
“We know kids who were victimized from all walks of life,” Waller said.
The Salvation Army offers a number of support systems for trafficking victims. “They provide case management,” Waller said. “They provide various social resources; trauma-informed therapy, connections to rehab, connections to creating jobs in some industries that are of course very different from what the young women have been involved in.
The Salvation Army maintains a facility in the Kensington section of the city where trafficking victims can seek help.
“They have laundry facilities,” Waller said. “They serve meals. They provide toiletries and things of that nature to support the women in the street.”
Waller says the center serves approximately 130 women per day. “They have the opportunity to be with other ladies who provide a listening ear,” she said, “but also help them get connected to our social services and case management, and the like.”
Waller notes that some women are hesitant to reach out for help because of the fear that others will judge them. “I think that’s a natural concern,” she said, “and that often hinders people from getting help, thinking ‘What will others think?’ And that’s why Enon participates with the Salvation Army drop-in center on a regular (Monthly) basis). And we also have men from the ministry who provide security to the location as well. Because we want them to know that Enon is a place they can come and they wouldn’t be judged.”