I am honored this year to serve as president of the Zonta Club of Longview, a service organization more than 100 women strong.
Last year, under the leadership of former President Anne Hugman, we launched a campaign to educate our community about sex trafficking, an ugly and horrific crime happening right here in Longview. We found that most people were blissfully unaware about the prevalence of trafficking and the terrifying danger it poses to our daughters — no matter where we live or how much money we make.
This is a crime that affects all of us, and we all must be a part of the solution. Many community partners stepped up to fight with us, and the Zonta Club of Longview raised more than $50,000 during last year's campaign.
This year we are putting those funds back into the community to fight sex-trafficking and kicking off our second annual funding campaign so we can continue our efforts, making them bigger and better. We will not be able to end sex trafficking with just one fundraising drive.
This year we have already made a donation of $10,000 to our Longview Police Department. It will use that money to purchase surveillance equipment for police operations that will apprehend the predators who are paying to have sex with women and children victims.
There has not been a sting in Longview since 2011, and we must support those who fight sex trafficking in ways that we cannot.
The Zonta Club of Longview also has committed to providing training for 50-plus of our Longview police officers from nationally known expert Dr. Claire Renzetti. She will teach them how to identify sex-trafficking cases, assist women and children with victim services and prepare a case for prosecution.
We're also working to raise awareness of the national toll-free hotline victims can call for assistance and others can call to report suspected trafficking. A major part of this effort was wrapping a Longview Transit System bus with a banner advertising the hotline.
And we are continuing to work to prevent potential victims of sex trafficking by supporting young women through mentoring programs, scholarships, Z-Clubs, Prom Boutique and education and awareness in the community.
Sex-trafficking cases are difficult to prosecute for a number of reasons, including the psychological coercion that often occurs, which causes the victim to believe she is not truly a victim.
In late September, Anthony "Flip" Nelson of Tyler received a 23-year federal prison sentence for trafficking minors across state lines to be sold for sex. This was the first conviction in East Texas and a trend we must continue if we want to end sex trafficking in our area.
This year the Zonta Club of Longview will continue its partnership with the Longview Police Department and the East Texas Anti-Trafficking team to continue to raise awareness in our community about the existence of trafficking, and we will actively support those fighting to eradicate sex trafficking from our community. We hope you will join us in this fight.
— Kristen Ishihara is a member of the Longview City Council and president of the Zonta Club of Longview.