I'll never forget the day that my eyes were opened to the subject of sexual trafficking in South Dakota. Ben and I were talking about fundraising with a Volunteers of America staff member. How we got on that subject I can't recall, but I do remember, vividly, my utter shock at being made aware that this was happening in Sioux Falls!

Since that meeting almost a decade ago, the world has continued to become an even more complicated place and human trafficking, in all its forms, continues to grow here and around the world, due in large part to a little thing we call the internet. Thankfully there are people trying to halt its growth and help its victims.

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Our dear friend Brendan Johnson, the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, is one of them. Brendan and US Attorney for North Dakota, Tim Purdon, along with the Department of Justice and Avera are sponsoring a Violent Crime and Human Trafficking Conference, this week, August 12th, 13th and 14th at the Washington Pavilion in the Mary W. Sommervold Hall.

Day one is targeted specifically at members of law enforcement, administrators and  caregivers (doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors) of victims of human trafficking and sexual assault and there is a $10 registration fee. Day two and three are free and open to the public, but registration is required.

One of the featured speakers on August 13th at 4 pm, is Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour a remarkable kidnapping survivor whom I saw in an interview last fall. I was stunned by her revelations and impressed with her peaceful, mature and spiritual demeanor.

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Elizabeth was a beautiful, innocent, harp playing, horse loving, 14-year-old, living in Salt Lake City, when she was abducted from her bedroom in the early morning hours of June 5, 2002. Elizabeth was imprisoned and sexually assaulted, sometimes multiple times a day, for nine nightmarish months.

The twists and turns in the case were astounding and the close calls when she was almost rescued, heart wrenching.  After the first assault she referred to herself as “broken beyond repair” and “shattered”. Finally in March of 2003, she was found in Sandy, Utah and delivered from- in her words- “a living hell.”

She is now a vibrant, married 25 year old with the philosophy that “happiness is the best revenge”. She started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to bring awareness to crimes against children, is finishing a music degree at Brigham Young University, and travels the country doing inspirational speeches and advocacy work.

She hopes her book will help people who are also victims to know that it is possible to move forward in life and find contentment, no matter what they’ve been through. Elizabeth knows it is not easy, but it is possible. So if you're in need of inspiration and perhaps, education, she is a great reason to attend this conference.

Kudos to all parties involved for delving into this difficult subject matter, for attempting to educate us all, for trying to stop the heinous activities of the human trafficking industry and for caring for its victims.

For more information call the Avera Events Coordinator at 605-322-4645 or click here.