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Hope5One educates on the dangers of human trafficking


A Warsaw-based anti-human trafficking ministry, Hope5One, is providing preventive awareness and shelter to survivors of human trafficking.

Connie McCray, the executive director of Hope5One, told the Democrat on Tuesday, Feb. 27 that she began the ministry in 2021. Hope5One covers Pettis, Benton and Henry counties and has eight board members. It was incorporated in January 2021 and became a 501(c)3 organization in February 2022. McCray noted they are working on a capital campaign to buy land and build a Hope House for survivors.

“We are giving hope and freedom from human trafficking,” she said. “And our mission is to protect the vulnerable and to educate and empower the community to be a part of our solution, and to provide shelter, hope, and healing to the rescued.”

She noted traffickers usually target youth between the ages of 12-14 and groom them online by befriending them through phone or gaming exploitation. Human trafficking can be sex or labor-related, although Hope5One is targeting sexual exploitation.

According to statistics from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline for 2020, 16,648 victims of trafficking were identified that year, with 10,836 attributed to sex, 3,583 to labor, 631 to sex and labor, and 1,634 as not specified.

McCray noted she began the independent organization because of a book she read, “Run the Race,” by Christine Caine, founder of A21, an anti-human trafficking organization.

“I read many of her illustrations and stories, and I had the burden of wondering why I was not doing something about this,” she noted. “It had always been a noble cause for others, but it became personal after reading that.

“I firmly believe that God just put that passion in my heart to do something,” she continued. “So, I began researching and looking into all the different avenues.”

Through a friend with law enforcement and victim advocacy experience, she found direction to the Missouri Attorney General’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.

“And they gave me a link to a tool kit,” McCray said. “Which is for people who want to be involved who don’t know where to start.”

The Task Force’s freedom strategy illustrates several different ways one can help. McCray chose to focus on two things: awareness and shelter. She found when she began, most people felt like human trafficking wasn’t a problem in the area.

“So, that has been an area we have really focused on with awareness training in our community,” she added. “We can tailor that to any organization or group.”

Hope5One speaks to community groups, youth groups, health care, law enforcement, dispatch, and schools.

“We’re just letting people know that it’s not what Hollywood makes it to look like,” McCray explained. “It is not so much abduction as it seduction. The majority of that begins with online grooming.”

Many children ages 12-14 have their own phones and gaming systems and are vulnerable to human trafficking.

“When we talk about protecting the vulnerable, they are the most vulnerable,” she noted. “So, we want to make them aware of their vulnerabilities and help them know how to stand up against those.”

Hope5One teaches which apps or games can be dangerous, such as those with a chat feature or location sharing and any that encourage one to meet strangers online. It also teaches youth how to determine when someone might be a predator, such as they will appear to be friendly and develop trust online. A predator will also establish secrecy and control, attempt to push and lift boundaries, and use direct intimidation and forceful demands.

“According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, over 80% of the youth are reported to be exploited and trafficked say that their grooming began online,” McCray said. “And 98% of them were talking to someone they did not know in person.”

Since its inception, Hope5One has continued to grow its outreach. In 2021, it reached or educated 700 people; in 2023, that number climbed to 2,000.

“We’ve been able to broaden our reach a little bit, and people know what we’re about,” McCray noted. “They’re realizing it is a problem.”

Hope5One invited the Stop Trafficking Project to Warsaw for a presentation at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at Warsaw High School. The March 6 presentation is for parents, and the project will speak to students on March 7 in assemblies for Lincoln R-2 grades 5-12 and Warsaw R-IX grades 7-12.

For more information about Hope5One or the Stop Trafficking Project, call McCray at 660-428-6002, email hope5oneministry@gmail.com or visit hope5one.org.

Faith Bemiss-McKinney can be reached at 660-530-0289.

human trafficking, sedalia, missouri, ministry hope5one, u.s. national human trafficking hotline, phone gaming exploitation, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, stop trafficking project