We did something different with our Person of the Year honor for this issue. Waco Today didn’t select an individual, or even a couple, like we did with Chip and Joanna Gaines in our inaugural honor.
You could argue we didn’t choose a person so much as we selected an organization to recognize: UnBound, which combats human trafficking in a variety of ways and works with law enforcement, the courts and victim services agencies.
Ultimately, UnBound is made up of dedicated people, from the seven-person staff headquartered in Waco to those in satellite chapters across the state, nation and world. UnBound casts an even wider net when you consider how it partners with others, educates and trains.
Slavery. The word doesn’t even sound like it should exist in the 21st century. We read about that in our history books, didn’t we? But it is precisely the definition for human trafficking: Keeping others captive and profiting from it.
The stories can be gut-wretching and tragic; young girls forced into lives of prostitution, many times kept hooked on drugs and living in deplorable conditions by their pimps. Many times they are constantly on the move and in fear for their lives,
It’s a situation not limited to McLennan County. It’s a statewide, nationwide and worldwide problem with estimates of 30 million across the world trafficked as slaves for sex or labor, or pressed into being soldiers.
If we did choose an individual for Person of the Year, that should be UnBound’s leader, Susan Peters. It was her desire to do something more in her role at Antioch Community Church and when she asked Senior Pastor Jimmy Siebert to tackle that new challenge, he encouraged her to follow her heart.
She has the title of national director for UnBound, which reaches far beyond the edges of our county in its mission.
We’re hearing more stories about human trafficking and the work of law enforcement and the courts to put the criminals behind bars. Beyond the punishment for the perpetrators is the redemption that UnBound and others are working to achieve for the victims.
Our cover reflects the people and agencies involved in this battle against human trafficking. It might have begun with Antioch’s Peters and Siebert, but it involves individuals such as McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara and his office; Assistant Chief Robert Lanning and his Waco Police Department detectives and officers; Judge Gary Coley, whose 74th District Court handles juvenile cases; Gabrielle Massey, chief prosecutor for the Special Victims Unit of the county’s District Attorney’s Office; and Barbara Wright, executive director of the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children, whose staff helps those who have been trafficked.
The challenge is huge, but the concerted effort by these agencies and UnBound is delivering hope in the darkness. And that should be recognized and applauded.