Mark Elam is quite open about the humble beginnings of Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans (OATH), the grassroots anti-trafficking organization he started three years ago: “I knew nothing about human trafficking before I saw an investigative special on it about eight years ago,” he said. “I had done overseas travel through my faith community and through that I was introduced to the tragic stories of many victims of human trafficking. The idea of taking action on this crucial problem was exciting.” He was self-employed at the time of this revelation and realized he had an unusual flexibility to confront the problem head-on. He took several trips to India and Southeast Asia on his own, helping to start small orphanages as a refuge for vulnerable children who are often taken as slaves for the sex tourism industry.
Returning to his native Oklahoma, Elam soon realized that slavery is not at all simply a third-world problem and founded OATH, the first and only anti-human trafficking organization in Oklahoma. His research on international human trafficking led to speaking engagements at various colleges and universities, advocating for victims and urging others to get involved in the fight. Because there is very little public knowledge of human trafficking issues in Oklahoma, Elam said, “OATH has been focusing the majority of our efforts on educating the community and raising awareness about human trafficking within the state.” They continue to speak at public events, have monthly community meetings, and distribute frequent newsletters, among other activities.
As OATH continues to grow, Elam aims to educate law enforcement, non-profits and other sectors of the community who should have a working knowledge of human trafficking. Unfortunately, he said, many victims of human trafficking are not identified as such because the proper training to distinguish these cases has been almost non-existent in Oklahoma – until OATH. In order to help victims, agencies must be able to recognize indicators and direct them to the appropriate services.
The young organization also attempts to identify and fill in gaps in service. This means expanding services that already exist, such as domestic violence organizations and law enforcement agencies, and also creating needed services that have yet to be implemented, like safe houses for victims.
Elam’s long-term goal is to create a multiagency task force that includes law enforcement, faith communities, businesses and other sectors that is able to identify and combat human trafficking holistically. In essence, OATH believes that the solution for ending human trafficking lies in a collective knowledge and ability to tackle the problem in a comprehensive and cooperative manner.
How can you help OATH? They need grant writers! If you’d like to volunteer your time and talents to assist a great organization who is making a much needed change in Oklahoma, you can visit their website, give them a call or send them an email.