Pine Bluff area religious leaders and advocates against domestic violence gathered for a half day conference sponsored by the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Catholic Charities Immigration Services held Thursday at First United Methodist Church.

Pine Bluff area religious leaders and advocates against domestic violence gathered for a half day conference sponsored by the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Catholic Charities Immigration Services held Thursday at First United Methodist Church.

The meeting was intended to serve as a training session to equip participants with the ability to identify victims of abuse and human trafficking and to provide these people with the help that they need.

“Domestic violence affects all ages and races,” said Angela McGraw, education coordinator for ACADV. “I’ve worked with white, black, Hispanic, Indian and Arab. I’ve worked with babies, 3- and 4-year olds and adolescents as well as adults. I had to leave my last job because the adolescents ripped my heart in half. It was so hard. I had to step back from it.”

McGraw said that while research shows that the majority of domestic violence victims are women, that does not mean that men are immune from the problem.

“I conducted a training for a sheriff’s department,” McGraw said. “One of the deputies spoke to me on the last day and told me that he was beaten by his wife. He said she would throw a sheet over his head when he came home and beat him over the head with a baseball bat. He said that they had kids and so he didn’t want to leave the relationship. He said that he would never hit her back so he had decided to just let it happen.”

McGraw said that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.

“It is vital that you talk to girls early on about domestic violence,” McGraw said. “As early as 10 or 11. Children can be used by an abuser against the victim. They are sometimes taught to disrespect them.”

McGraw said that in working with teenagers at an alternative school she has had to counsel young men about what is acceptable contact with young women.

“I saw a young man slap a girl on her backside and she giggled,” McGraw said. “I told him that he can’t do that and he said that it was OK because the girl liked it. I told him that in domestic violence situations actions like that are intended to be a message saying ‘I own your body and can do what I want.’ We must teach young women to respect their bodies.”

McGraw said that a recurring problem is justifying abuse by relying upon a misguided interpretation of Bible verse.

“The Bible says that wives should be submissive to their husbands but why don’t we read the verses that surround it?” McGraw asked. “If people are going to use the Bible to justify things then why don’t we really read the Bible to understand it?”

“We have preacher’s wives who call the abuse hotline,” McGraw said. “They say their husbands beat them because they hugged somebody too long after church or smiled too broadly at them. Churches aren’t talking about domestic violence.”

McGraw said that women go back to their abusers an average of seven times before they leave for good.

“Spirituality is very important in these situations,” McGraw said. “You must help the victim see that domestic violence is breaking the marriage covenant.”

Human trafficking

Reagan Stanford, crime victims services coordinator with CCIS, spoke about the growing problem of international human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is the delivery or maintaining of persons in slave conditions,” Stanford said. “It is the second-largest criminal industry in the world. There are between 15,000 and 18,000 trafficked annually into the United States.”

Stanford said that Arkansas has a state human trafficking law but that to date nobody has been prosecuted under it.

Stanford explained that trafficking victims are frequently sold into sexual slavery and that the internet is used by criminal networks to promote them.

“Victims are prosecuted for offenses related to their victimization,” Stanford said. “There is a lack of public and professional awareness of the problem. Victims are largely hidden from sight by the nature of their condition.

“We need everyone in Arkansas to know what trafficking is and what to look for,” Stanford said. “There was a case in Bradley County before the state trafficking law where a person won a civil suit after they claimed human trafficking.”

Stanford said the Arkansas human trafficking law differs from a federal human trafficking law in several important ways.

“Human trafficking in Arkansas is a Class A felony, which is about the same as for trafficking drugs,” Stanford said. “We are creating a draft law that hopefully can be passed in the 2013 legislative session.”

Stanford said the Arkansas law makes no exception for minors being trafficked for sex and thus will prosecute them.

“In Arkansas a minor can be prosecuted for prostitution but there it is also the law that a minor cannot legally consent to having sex,” Stanford said. “If a 16-year-old girl can’t legally consent to having sex with her 19-year-old boyfriend how can she legally consent to charge people for sex? This makes no sense.

“There are basically no support services for human trafficking in Arkansas,” Stanford said. “We might need to change our attitude and outlook to see that women are being trafficked are in need of our help. If you see someone in that situation do you think ‘oh that poor person, how can I help them?

“People should care about human trafficking because it is here in Arkansas and people should be outraged by it,” Stanford said.