WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., July 12, 2019 — There is a new partnership between West Liberty University (WLU) and the Wheeling YWCA based on the need based on the need to combat human trafficking. The university and the YWCA are hosting specialized training called GEMS that will be presented in the fall at WLU’s Highlands Center on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
“West Virginia needs this training now more than ever as we see more and more child sex trafficking victims. The GEMS program is considered the gold standard across the country and we are pleased to be able to bring their founder to our region. Right now we don’t have specific training that assists in identifying and understanding child sex trafficking victims,” said Darrick Brake, WLU professor of criminology and criminal justice, who has spearheaded the initiative.
The training is made possible thanks to a grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph Health and Wellness Foundation, managed by the WLU Foundation.
In 2007, funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, GEMS created the first national training curriculum on the commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of children and youth. Domestic trafficking at that time was still an issue that few people had heard of and even fewer had skills to identify and support victims and survivors.
Brake got into the topic of child sex trafficking while he was a graduate student at Western Michigan University, also in 2007.
“Back then it was thought it might be a waste of time, but unfortunately the topic of sex trafficking has grown both in scope and importance due to the many incidents that continue to occur,” Brake said. “This training will take place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and will focus on both girls and boys as victims.”
For the past 20 years, Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) has served as the nation’s leading organization for empowering commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked girls and young women. Through cultural change, advocacy, training, and survivor leadership, GEMS is committed to shifting public perception and policy.
Thousands of people have been trained through GEMS intensive curriculum and have in turn gone on to train thousands more.
“This is the first GEMS training in West Virginia’s history and is the first that addresses working with children in this way. GEMS has always wanted to come to our state to train so they are really pleased,” Brake added.
The facilitator will be Rachel Lloyd, GEMS founder and herself a survivor who is from Britain.
“As the founder and CEO of GEMS for two decades, she has unparalleled expertise in meeting the needs of survivors and in empowering survivor leaders. Rachel was awarded the 2018 World’s Children’s Prize, an award voted on by 1.2 million children worldwide which counts Malala and Desmond Tutu as board members.”
Lloyd has become one of the foremost advocates for sexually exploited girls and young women through her dedication to the community she serves. She is also deeply passionate about changing public perception and policy.
According to the GEMS website, her advocacy ensured the passage of New York State’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act, which in 2008 became the first law in the nation to protect —rather than punish—trafficked and exploited youth. Since then 28 other states have followed suit.
She co-produced the Showtime documentary Very Young Girls, which has been seen by over 4 million people and sparked a national dialogue on the issue and also is the author of the critically acclaimed Girls Like Us. She has advocated for survivors at the White House, the United Nations, and before Congress.
The WLU-YWCA training is open to professionals, law enforcement and anyone who works in any capacity with children. It will take place from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. both days and the fee is $100.
“This is an inclusive training, open to the entire region. We will be offering the GEMS training at this session but we hope to offer it every year,” added Brake.