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Selfless Spirit

Striving to educate, equip and empower Green Country and the rest of the nation on how to better help children stay safe from predators is the Demand Project's plan to prevent sex trafficking.

Article
Rob Harmon
Photos
Marc Rains
Posted
June 28, 2018

Hidden in plain sight is one of America’s saddest and greatest tragedies — a heartbreaking crisis that most people in the United States would say isn’t happening in their backyard. The numbers say otherwise. Every two minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation, according to a best estimate made by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). That and other statistics like it on the number of children involved in sex trafficking across the world are staggering. But the numbers are a far cry from the actual devastating reality that young people face because of the demand in the United States and around the world for sexually exploited children.

U.S.-based websites and apps that bolster the trafficking of women and children are quietly part of the multi-billion dollar industry. In the age we live in, where nearly seventy percent of children between 11 and 14 years old have smart phones, grooming children for prostitution and pornography is easier than ever.

It’s an impossible situation with a beaten, intimidated population of victims who are afraid to come forward, many of whom have been groomed by predators initially claiming to have their best interest in mind. In the end, these victims become slaves. Fortunately, where most Americans turn a blind eye and pretend it’s a problem happening somewhere else, one Tulsa couple has decided enough is enough, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable numbers.

Jason and Kristen Weis, founders of the Demand Project in Tulsa, were living in Colorado at the time when they made the decision to stop acting as if sexual trafficking was someone else’s problem. Jason says that if he were to use one word to describe what caused him to devote so much time and energy to the cause, it would be the word rage.

“There was one night where in the news they had a story about a father who sexually assaulted his own daughter,” says Weis, “a toddler about 2 years old. When I heard that he had videotaped it and put it on the Internet for thousands of people to watch, that was the fist-clenching rage moment for me. That’s what really prompted everything after that point.”

The Demand Project’s mission is to eradicate sexual exploitation, specifically those victimized as children. Preventing sex trafficking, lewd proposals to children and child pornography is where much of the project’s energy and efforts are targeted. Prosecution is another aspect of the project’s roles in the Tulsa area, where Weis is a detective with Jenks law enforcement. Participating in rescue and restoration efforts are also additional facets of the Demand Project’s impact across the country. With the help of a growing number of willing donors and volunteers, resources are being used by the organization to tackle this terrible situation that even in Green Country is impacting many children.

Striving to educate, equip and empower Green Country and the rest of the nation on how to better help children stay safe from predators is the Demand Project’s plan to prevent sex trafficking. Weis says through educational workshops, the basic aspects of sex trafficking, like ‘grooming’ for example, can be better understood by the average citizen, which helps stop sex trafficking before it even begins.

“Grooming is a process. It’s not an event,” says Weis. “If you can picture a pot of water on a stove burner; it starts out cold, then gets warmer and warmer. It’s simmering and then it’s boiling. That’s grooming. It’s that process of desensitizing.”

Predators use social media platforms to become friends of young children and sometimes parents become unwitting accomplices. For example, children as young as 10 years old, says Weis, can end up having their own Instagram account, taking pictures of themselves using iPads. The parents believe that since there is no data plan on these devices, it is harmless. But not so.

“In Jenks,” says Weis, “I’ve got kids who will leave their home in Jenks and go to the outskirts of the school so they can get Wi-Fi. They’re not even in the actual building. They’re on the road or in an alleyway, just so they can get free Wi-Fi. Just because you don’t have a data plan does not mean your kids don’t have access to predators from around the world, in Tulsa, Chicago, L.A. or even across the street.”

The Demand Project provides workshops, led by Weis, for all those who want to be informed and more capable of joining the fight against the sex trafficking industry. Things like Facebook page safety settings, emojis and their current meanings among teenagers, ongoing Snapchat and Twitter trends, live-streaming concerns and so much more are discussed in great detail in the project’s prevention workshops.

In an area of service that isn’t always so full of good news, the Demand Project’s most positive impact made recently is on a national scale. The organization’s newly established Mount Arukah is a home dedicated to restoring the lives of children and adults recently rescued from the sex-trafficking industry. A secluded complex over 50 acres in Oklahoma, with over 60 beds, it will serve many children in desperate need of a new life beyond sex trafficking. Arukah, which is a Hebrew word essentially meaning ‘restoration to perfect health,’ seems to be an appropriate name for the facility.  

LOCATOR
The Demand Project
P.O. Box 1352 | Jenks
918-346-2168
thedemandproject.org