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First a new home for human trafficking victims, then a long walk to follow

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A new facility is opening in Buffalo to assist victims of human trafficking, and at-risk women and girls. At the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday for the new FreeTHEM Center, its founder announced her next steps to raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation will be taking along a 902-mile walking journey.

The FreeTHEM Center at 852 Kensington Avenue is a sister location to the Project Mona House, and will provide life skills training, counseling and services to aid its clients. Offerings include a computer lab, wellness rooms, counseling, case management, art centers and music centers.

Its founder, Kelly Galloway, says there will also be educational programs to aid human trafficking victims and help those at risk know how to avoid getting caught up in it.

“I wanted to go on the offense, and start that fight against human trafficking, which are reaching out to vulnerable populations before something happens to them,” she said. “To give them the self awareness, the self respect, the self dignity, to let them know there's a community around them. And to teach them the skills of how to be able to realize that they don't have to go into this life, and to shine a light on the tricks that those who want to exploit them do.”

Human trafficking victims may be women or men of any race, age or social class. But Galloway and her peers say marginalized populations, including people of color and people of poverty, are at greater risk of being exploited. Modern day human trafficking may be used for purposes including sex, labor or medical exploitation including use of their organs.

Galloway plans to raise awareness of modern human trafficking and exploitation when she and her peers embark on a 902-mile walk, beginning May 3 in Lynchburg, Virginia and ending June 19 in Buffalo, coinciding with the latter city's Juneteenth holiday celebration.

The route will be similar to an Underground Railroad pathway people took to escape from slavery. Several stops are planned along the way, including Richmond, Warrenton, Baltimore, District of Columbia, Philadelphia, New York, Auburn and Rochester.

“Every single step is going to have a story," Galloway said. "I want to talk about how human trafficking happens in mass incarceration. I want to talk about how human trafficking happens to populations that do not get the justice that they need, specifically with Black, Brown, Latino girls. I want to talk about how human trafficking is fueled by the idolatry of capitalism, specifically shining a light on companies like Pornhub.”

Pornhub recently removed millions of videos uploaded by unverified users, amid allegations some involved minors and some involved non-consenting participants. The removals came after credit card companies moved to block payments to the website. Galloway says the site only relented when big money forced them to do so.

"They didn't do that because they believe in (exploited people’s) freedom. They didn't do that because they believed in protecting children and women. They did that because their pockets were affected," she said. "I want to shine a light on corrupt companies like that."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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