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HWSU hosts 2nd annual Human Trafficking Symposium

Tribune News Service
As part of Lifetime’s ‘Ripped From the HeadlinesâEUR series, on Aug. 2, Elizabeth Smart hosted a documentary about her 2002 kidnapping.

On Oct. 26, Weber State University’s second annual Human Trafficking Symposium took place in the Shepherd Union Ballrooms from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The featured keynote speakers were Elizabeth Smart, Lauren Book and Ron Book.

Elizabeth Smart is known to residents of Utah as being a champion for abuse, trafficking and trauma after her kidnapping at such an early age in the early 2000s. She spoke regarding her experiences and the symposium’s mission to bring awareness to these issues.

A representative of the Utah Attorney General’s office spoke next on what they do to combat human trafficking in Utah. They discussed the methods they use to find perpetrators in cases of exploitation and trafficking.

Utah Detective Kimberly Burton and her K-9 named Flash, who is specifically trained to target electronic storage detection. Dogs like Flash were instrumental in exposing Subway spokesman Jared Folger’s involvement in child sex crimes.

At the midpoint of the symposium, community partner Wendy Jensen-Nicholls acknowledged the potentially triggering nature of the subject matter and invited anyone who was triggered by presentations to step outside.

The next speakers were Florida State Sen. Lauren Book and her father, Ron Book, as they spoke about their work in sex trafficking advocacy.

At a young age, Lauren Book was trafficked and sexually abused by her nanny. Book talked about grooming, the process a predator will take to gain the trust of victims.

“At first, it was small things like letting me ride in the front seat and having an extra snack after dinnertime,” Lauren Book said. “Gradually, it became more overt things like getting a candy on her tongue with my tongue.”

The Books explained their organization, Lauren’s Kids, has a curriculum for parents to teach children about the dangers of sexual predators.

Ron Book noted that even though Lauren Book and Smart are survivors of childhood sex trafficking they still deal with trauma related to their individual experiences on a daily basis.

After a lunch break, several Utah survivors participated in a panel discussion with the attendees and the Attorney General and Sheriff’s Offices.

One of these survivors, Julie Whitehead, was trafficked in Layton when she was 30 years old. She wrote about her experience in her book “Shadowed,” with a foreword by Smart.

“Through healing and therapy, I was able to acknowledge my experience,” Whitehead said. “Awareness needs to be brought to this state. Many people just don’t think it happens.”

Though the topic of trafficking is hard to acknowledge, Nicholls is grateful to WSU for being such an advocate for the work it’s been doing in spreading awareness and providing resources.

“We are so grateful to Weber State for partnering with us on this,” Nicholls said. “Brad [Mortensen] really pushed for it to happen last year, and it’s been incredible for it to happen again this year. It’s been a really great partnership.”

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Tim Costello
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