Despite a 2004 FBI-led sting operation, dubbed “Stormy Nights,” which rescued 23 young people from forced prostitution at truck stops in Oklahoma, sexual slavery is far from eradicated either in Oklahoma or nationwide, said Mark Elam (pictured), executive director of Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans (OATH) and associate pastor at Lifechanger Church in Claremore.
“Oklahoma City is one of the hot spots in the nation,” Elam said, saying interstates 35, 40 and 44 are major trade routes for both sexual and economic predators, and victims are both transported through Central Oklahoma and exploited here. “Stormy Nights so shocked the nation that the FBI created a whole new department called ‘Innocence Lost,’ where they now work in 40 to 50 cities, rescuing children out of the prostitution industry.”
On a website created to promote the rally, OATH has also been encouraging residents in other Oklahoma cities to sponsor and conduct walks, runs, bicycle and motorcycle rides Saturday to encourage public awareness. Residents are also encouraged to create art and conduct prayer meetings focused on economic and sexual slavery.
“Our highways are used as trade routes for the traffickers going to and from other profitable cities and states, which causes a lot of incidents here in Oklahoma,” Elam said. “So for awareness, so we’ve asked people traveling on the highways to the rally in Bricktown to wear chains to symbolize that slaves are being moved through our state.”
Our highways are used as trade routes for the traffickers.
The OATH coalition includes the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, the Oklahoma City Police Department, the Child Welfare Division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, as well as the FBI, the U.S. attorney general’s office, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of State.
Elam said the Bricktown rally and other related events are intended, in part, to raise funds for OATH’s planned efforts to provide schools and PTAs with educational materials related to online safety.
“We’re going to have opportunities for people to donate and register for our new program, which is our Protect Oklahoma Children campaign,” he said. “We’re going to bring curriculum to the schools and to the PTAs for children to be safe online. The FBI has told us that the No. 1 way sexual predators find children now is online.”
The Oklahoma Freedom Rally Saturday will include motorcycle group rides that will end at the Bass Pro parking lot in Bricktown, 200 Bass Pro Drive. The rally will be held 5-6 p.m. and will include a chain-breaking ceremony, live music and an address by a sex trafficking survivor.