PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – The Gulf Coast Sexual Assault Program taught hair stylists how to identify and report human trafficking and sexual assault on Monday.
The Safe Snips Program educates stylists on how to help clients who confide in them about trafficking or assault. Many stylists in attendance say they’ve already had first-hand experience.
“That’s what led me to come here because I have been in that position multiple times,” said Halo Salon Manager and Hair Stylist Celi Brown. “I do try to create a safe space, but I’m not fully educated on how to handle these situations, to provide resources, and I feel like I have left with a lot of that information today.”
Traffickers often take their victims to salons to improve their appearance before selling them. Stylists should look out for red flags like the client’s body language, whether or not they’re speaking for themselves, and behavioral changes. Awareness of these signs can help identify predators and save their victims.
“We actually had a staff member who was in a salon and overheard a conversation with a young girl and knew that something just wasn’t right,” said Gulf Coast Sexual Assault Program Coordinator Sonya Lowe. “She was able to get a tag number from the gentleman who was in the salon. Fast forward eight months later, the guy was arrested for human trafficking.”
Lowe is also the child advocate for one of the victims in the Michael Hunt murder case. She was the girl investigators say Hunt wanted to kill so she couldn’t testify against him in court about her sexual assault. Lowe says it’s important for children to know who they can turn to if they become victims of abuse.
“Identify a safe adult. Identify someone in your life who’s you’re safe adult. If someone were to approach them to go tell that safe adult.”
The Gulf Coast Sexual Assault Program is holding the Safe Snips Program again next Monday in Jackson County at the River Town Church. Training is free and it begins at 9 a.m.