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Cindy McCain fights human trafficking

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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Human trafficking is not, despite what many people believe, an issue far removed from our rural communities. In the last two years, both the Rotary Club of Sedona and the League of Women Voters conducted programs on human trafficking for their members, sponsoring education and eradication of human trafficking as national and international initiatives.

"It was as a result of my own heightened awareness and participation at both of these events that the idea of a program for the Sedona Women was fostered," Sedona Women Chair Holli Ploog said. "As I am a member of the program committee, I presented the concept and our committee overwhelmingly supported a program educating our members on this complex and disturbing subject."

Scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Poco Diablo Resort, "Bought and Sold: Modern Day Slavery" is not only an outcome of Ploog and her associates' involvement with The Sedona Women — a group Ploog said provides "women the opportunity to learn about the community and to support community needs" — but also a result of her own professional career as an attorney specializing in crimes against women and children.

"Sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence were difficult crimes to prosecute and required continuous support for victims throughout the legal process," Ploog said. "We also started a shelter for victims of domestic violence and supported the local rape crisis center. I was fortunate to work for a very progressive and open-minded district attorney who was willing to prosecute these crimes and create a unit dedicated to supporting its victims and witnesses."

As an expert on issues closely tied to human trafficking, increasingly aware of the severity of the issue, Ploog reached out to experts on the subject "Bought and Sold: Modern Day Slavery" will feature a keynote address by philanthropist Cindy Hensley McCain, wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.].

"Mrs. McCain is the co-chair of the Arizona Governor's Council on human trafficking and on the McCain Institute's Human Trafficking Advisory Council," Ploog said. "She is dedicated to efforts to reduce human trafficking in Arizona, throughout the United States and around the world, as well as working to improve the lives of victims of human trafficking. Through her work with the McCain Institute, several partnerships have been formed with anti-trafficking organizations working on solving various aspects of the problem."

Following McCain's address, a panel consisting of Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher, state Rep. Doug Coleman [District 16] and Willow Away founder Beth Jacobs will address how human trafficking impacts the state.

"Sheriff Mascher is actively pursuing perpetrators of human trafficking in Yavapai County," Ploog said. "He has conducted several sting operations in the Verde Valley, including within our own community. Yes, human trafficking is a problem right here in Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek.... We are so fortunate to have a sheriff who has a zero-tolerance policy for the purchasing of children for prostitution in Yavapai County."

Ploog voiced equally strong praise for Coleman, saying that his focus, when elected, "was to work with then-Governor Jan Brewer and the McCain Institute on combatting and implementing stricter laws against human trafficking. As a member of the Governor's Council, representing the state legislature, he has actively participated in reviewing Arizona laws, administrative practices and law enforcement training pertaining to human trafficking and recommending changes in these areas to reduce human trafficking in Arizona and improve ways to identify and assist the victims."

Jacobs' experience cuts closest to the bone: As a teenager, she was a victim of the kind of predation Mascher and Coleman are fighting. Her life has been shaped by the lack of differentiation between perpetrators and victims.

"In Beth's case, she was charged with prostitution as a teen and will carry that record for 99 years," Ploog said. "Every time she applies for a job, her prospective employers learn of her past. Rather than recognizing she is a victim, she is seen as a criminal. For six years she faced an ordeal of fearing for her life before finally escaping, but she has yet to escape the criminal charges from those years."

According to Ploog, the ball has just begun to roll on eradicating human trafficking. In addition to the Sedona Women's program, a new coalition is being formed locally to work on the issue. The Verde Valley Coalition Against Human Trafficking will exist to educate the community, coordinate efforts among involved organizations and offer volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups.

"An initial meeting is being planned for October 21 at the Mingus Union High School cafeteria from 6 to 8 p.m. Community leaders from organizations in government, law enforcement, education, nonprofits, faith communities, businesses and service providers are being invited to learn and be part of community efforts to protect our children and families in the Verde Valley. We encourage interested citizens to attend this meeting."

"Bought and Sold: Modern Day Slavery" will take place Wednesday, Oct. 14, from 9:30 a.m. to noon, Poco Diablo Resort, State Route 179, Sedona. Donations to the Helen Wolfe Scholarship Fund are appreciated.

Copyright 2015 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 7, 2015

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