OCEAN CITY – Officials say an inaugural anti-human trafficking conference will allow community members to learn more about resources available on them on Eastern Shore.
On Saturday, April 22, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH), in partnership with several local agencies, will host its first Lower Shore Anti-Human Trafficking Conference at Sonrise Church in Berlin. Gail Mansell, director of supportive care and pastoral care at Atlantic General, said the three-hour event will feature guest speakers, testimonials, a question-and-answer panel, and vendors.
“Human trafficking is like what mental health and addictions was a few years ago, where we swept it under the rug and pretended like it didn’t happen …,” she said. “I think this is a topic where we need to open the can of worms, so to speak.”
Mansell said efforts to form an anti-trafficking conference began in earnest last fall, after a monthly meeting of the hospital’s Faith-Based Partnership, a collaboration between local worship centers and AGH to promote health awareness, education and healthy living within the community.
“We had a guest speaker who spoke briefly about human trafficking …,” she explained. “I invited her back the next month, in November, and she gave us a wealth of information. Right then and there, we decided it was information our community needed.”
Danielle Thomas, child sex trafficking regional navigator for Life Crisis Center, a participant in this year’s conference, said human trafficking is prevalent on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“Human trafficking is everywhere, and it definitely happens on the Eastern Shore,” she explained. “Labor trafficking is very prevalent in rural areas like ours … and we also have a transient population in Ocean City that comes in the summer.”
Mansell agreed, noting that she and other chaplains at the hospital had encountered patients who fit the criteria for human trafficking.
“We didn’t know where to turn …,” she said. “I realized we are a gateway between all the highways and waterways and states that surround us, but we had no clue.”
This conference, Thomas explained, will provide community members with the necessary resources.
“It’s a place to come and find answers to human trafficking, what warning signs to look for and what exactly is human trafficking,” she said.
Registration for the Lower Shore Anti-Human Trafficking Conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., with festivities beginning at 9 a.m. The event will feature refreshments, vendors, a Q&A panel and guest speakers, including a human trafficking survivor. Officials say a second conference is already being planned for January, during National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
For more information, or to pre-register, visit the Lower Shore Anti-Human Trafficking Conference event page on Facebook, or email [email protected].
“It’s going to be a busy day,” Mansell said.