Alabama Epstein? It happens here all the time

As the nation learns more about the salacious life and mysterious death of billionaire and serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, it’s important to remember his crimes are far from uncommon.

In fact, they happen all the time.

Even in Alabama.

It’s a problem that experts agree is growing, though exact numbers are difficult to quantify, according to researchers at the University of Alabama who conducted a study estimating there were more than 900 potential survivors of human trafficking across the state in 2017 alone, and that more than half the victims were minors.

Awareness is also growing as alliances of lawmakers, advocates, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors grapple with stopping the problem and educating community members.

It’s going to take a concerted effort, from everyone, to combat human trafficking. Here are just a few tips:

No. 1: Learn the paths into human trafficking

“Every single victim we’ve encountered has some type of [economic, social, or emotional] vulnerability that has been exploited by the trafficker,” said Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge for the Department of Homeland Security Investigations team in Birmingham during a recent deep-dive discussion of human trafficking on 1819 podcast.

Traffickers are very good at grooming their victims and “luring girls into this world,” often by developing an online relationship and developing a strong “father figure” bond before slowly coercing them into sex trafficking, according to Gilmer.

“These are young ladies who have had their childhoods stolen from them,” said Carolyn Potter, executive director of The Wellhouse, a residential treatment facility near Birmingham for sexually exploited trafficking victims.

Potter said in an 1819 interview that every case is different; however, there are commonalities among victims’ stories. Victims tend to be runaways, neglected or abused children, and at-risk youth aging out of foster care who become easy prey for traffickers.

“A typical scenario would be a young lady who was first [sexually] victimized as a child,” has experienced “complex trauma,” which means traumatic events have repeatedly happened, often daily, throughout much of her life, and that substance use is either forced upon her or is used as a coping mechanism, Potter said.

“I ended up doing so much drugs because he was requiring me to do so much,” said Dixie Shannon in a new Alabama Public Radio series about human trafficking in Alabama.

Shannon was a runaway whose coercion into a life of commercial sex began at 17-years-old and included dependence upon her trafficker and punishment for not performing.

“I couldn’t take a shower without making a certain amount of money,” Shannon told APR’s Pat Duggins. “I couldn’t eat … I couldn’t rest. …And, I ended up getting to a point where I was either going to kill myself because I’m going to overdose on these drugs, or he’s going to kill me.”

No. 2: Learn where the real risk is

Parents misplace their fear by not allowing kids to play alone or outside for fear of kidnapping, according to Gilmer, who said statistics show kidnapping is exceedingly rare.

“The biggest mistakes we make in society today is the boogey-man syndrome,” Gilmer said. “That there’s a creep out there on every block, around every corner, on every aisle in Walmart or Target that’s getting ready to snatch our kids.”

The real threat, he said, is on cell phones and the Internet – where predators know how to get in touch with our kids within 20-30 keystrokes.

The risks aren’t just of becoming preyed upon. There are risks of becoming the predator.

Gilmer said there is no typical profile and that the “Johns” come from every walk of life and socioeconomic level, although DHS is collecting data in partnership with advocacy group Trafficking Hope to understand any trends.

“We do know that all of the Johns, I think statistically probably 100 percent, all had or have a problem with pornography,” said Gilmer. “That’s how it starts for them and then it progresses over time. They need something more and then they get to the point they start purchasing sex.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall said in an 1819 podcast interview that the 2014 arrest of a well-respected former Guntersville High School soccer coach for child sexual abuse and human trafficking was “the moment” that he first realized the scope and significance of the problem in Alabama and the importance of the human trafficking statutes being developed at the time.

“That was [the case] for me that… not only broadened my awareness of the traditional view of the pimp and the prostitute and the Johns, but also showed that children themselves are victims of human trafficking,” Marshall said.

No. 3: Recognize the signs of human trafficking and help at-risk youth

“It’s very hard to encounter a person who is being trafficked and not realize that something is going on, even if you can’t identify what it is right away,” Potter said.

Here are some of the warning signs that someone may be a human trafficking victim that are listed on The Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force website:

– Inability or fear to make eye contact.

– Presence of an older male or “boyfriend” who seems controlling.

– Shows signs of physical, mental, or sexual abuse.

– Inappropriately dressed for the age of the child (sexy, low cut, too short).

– Is not in school or has significant gaps in schooling.

– Demeanor is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous.

Also, Potter said she has never seen a victim who did not have some kind of branding or tattoo, such as a young woman who came to The Wellhouse with the street address of her trafficker tattooed on her forehead.

“If you see something, say something,” Potter said. “It’s not going to hurt to make a report. If you’re wrong, that’s okay, but if you’re not, you may have saved a life.”

And if you are in a position to help at-risk youth by becoming a foster parent, there are thousands of Alabama children in need of safe and stable care.

“If we could make this group not the most ‘preyed upon,’ but the most ‘prayed upon,’ what a different outcome we’d have,” said Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries President and CEO Rod Marshall in an 1819 interview.

“If we were prayer warriors for this vulnerable population,” Marshall said, “if we were the safety net, if we refused to allow children to go through life with no margin for safety, if we could be there for these families to keep them from disintegrating and needing to put their children in foster care … the predators might find themselves having far fewer victim pools to draw from.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888–373–7888.

To report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement, please call 866-347-2423.

And if you need help here in Alabama, please call the Wellhouse’s rescue and recovery helpline at 800–991–0948.

Together, we can put a stop to human trafficking in Alabama.

Watch:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

3 hours ago

Alabama Power completes restoration following historic Hurricane Sally

Alabama Gulf Coast residents are a step closer to recovery following Hurricane Sally, which battered the Alabama and Florida coastline Wednesday.

Sally was the first hurricane to make landfall in Alabama since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and brought severe flooding and high winds that knocked down poles and power lines in southern and central Alabama before the slow-moving storm exited the state Thursday. Power was disrupted for more than 680,000 Alabama Power customers.

As of Sunday, power had been restored to 99% of Alabama Power customers able to receive service.

Throughout the multiday restoration, teamwork was paramount as company crews worked diligently to address outages in affected communities, getting the lights back on before originally projected times.

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By Friday, outages in central and southeast Alabama had been resolved and all efforts were focused on the Mobile area, as the coastal communities sustained the most damage.

Prior to Sally making landfall, Alabama Power positioned extra crews from across its service territory in the Mobile area so that they were ready to move quickly once the weather improved. From the moment it was safe, company crews were in the field, working day and night.

“Hurricane Sally will be remembered as the most damaging storm to affect Mobile since Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” said Patrick Murphy, Alabama Power Mobile Division vice president. “We appreciate our customers’ patience as we worked to restore power, and we’re committed to working alongside community leaders on full recovery efforts for the area.”

More than 4,000 lineworkers and support personnel from 14 states joined forces working to get the lights back on along the coast. Crews worked through rainy conditions over the weekend as Tropical Storm Beta loomed offshore.

By noon Sunday, crews had replaced more than 400 poles, more than 500 transformers and more than 1,500 spans of power lines that were damaged or destroyed during the severe weather.

“Our crews and industry partners worked safely and quickly through difficult conditions,” said Scott Moore, Alabama Power senior vice president of Power Delivery. “I am proud of their hard work and steadfast commitment to our customers, especially during times of need.”

Sally is just the latest severe storm in what has been a very active hurricane season. With more storms possible before the season ends later this fall, Alabama Power customers should remain vigilant and have their storm-readiness plans in place. Learn more about how to prepare at AlabamaPower.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

VIDEO: Gov. Kay Ivey signals no end to mask order in sight, media trolling for Tuberville dirt, State Rep. Mike Ball appears to regret vote on Alabama Memorial Preservation Act and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Are we really looking at wearing masks in Alabama well into 2021?

— Did Sports Illustrated attempt to dig up dirt with Tommy Tuberville’s former players as part of an October surprise?

— Does State Representative Mike Ball’s shift on the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act signify a notable shift in the Alabama Republican Party?

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Jackson and Handback are joined by Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) to discuss Confederate monuments, prison reform, the Jones/Tuberville race and 2020.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” aimed at those who refuse to accept that President Donald Trump’s peace deals in the Middle East are a good thing.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

10 hours ago

Doug Jones fundraises off of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

Less than 24 hours after it was announced that Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday evening, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) was fundraising for his own reelection campaign off of her death.

In an email sent out at 5:46 p.m. CT on Saturday, Jones began by saying, “This is a time for us to reflect on the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – to honor the barriers she broke and those she helped break for others. She always fought for equality and civil rights, even and especially when she was outnumbered.”

Alabama’s junior senator then pivoted to politics in the second paragraph, selectively pointing fingers at Republicans.

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“I’m saddened – though not surprised – by how quickly this has turned into a political power play by Trump and McConnell,” Jones claimed. “It not only dishonors the legacy of an American icon, it distorts the Constitutional process – a deliberate process that the Senate has always used to uphold the independence of our judicial branch.”

Jones did not mention that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was the first to bring politics into this discussion on Friday evening. Before Schumer even tweeted condolences for, or honored Ginsburg, the senate minority leader wrote, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

In contrast, President Donald Trump did not mention anything about filling the seat on Friday night, and McConnell’s comments came as a rebuttal to Schumer.

Additionally, it is not clear what “process” issues Jones could already have — as a nominee has not even been named yet, nor has a confirmation process been outlined.

Nevertheless, Jones in his email continued to use Ginsburg to fit his political purposes:

She stood for what was right and for the constitutional principles of equality and democracy that she held dear, even if it meant she was in the minority on the Court. She knew we are on the verge of a crisis for our democracy:

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she said this week.

The “Constitutional process” Jones touted earlier in the email, of course, does not allow justices to dictate to the president or the Senate regarding their successors. It is unclear how this would “uphold the independence of our judicial branch,” as Jones asserted he aims to do.

Jones’ email subsequently contained a clear falsehood.

“Mitch McConnell has other plans,” Jones continued. “He is systematically dismantling the rules of the Senate. He’s changing the rules to fit his own agenda.”

To be clear, the Senate rules are not being dismantled, changed or ignored if the Senate proceeds to consideration of a nominee made by Trump in the coming days. Presidents have nominated justices to the Supreme Court of the United States 29 times during an election year previously in history.

Jones’ email concluded as follows:

So much depends on this Senate seat. Our win in November will be a defeat of Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy and cynicism.

As Justice Ginsburg said in 2015: “Waste no time on anger, regret or resentment, just get the job done.”

Immediately below Jones’ electronic signature on the email is a large, blue “Donate Now” button. This links to a donation page for Jones’ reelection campaign headlined in all caps, “PROTECT JUSTICE GINSBURG’S LEGACY.”

RELATED: Doug Jones has previously vowed to oppose Trump’s Supreme Court nominee — ‘I’ll do everything I can’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Redistricting and Alabama’s room where it happens

No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens

This description of 1790s American politics in the well-known musical Hamilton echoes a still-relevant sentiment–that regular Americans really don’t know how all of this happens.

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But is that feeling accurate? Looking at our inability to pass a federal budget, the process of choosing Supreme Court nominees, and even our own recently-increased gas tax, it’s hard to say it’s not. Often it feels like we don’t know how any of this really gets decided (and that attempts to find out would be futile).

Soon enough Alabama will be dealing with another potential “room-where-it-happens” scenario, one that will have lasting impacts for residents across the state.

The scenario? Redistricting–the process of redrawing state and congressional legislative district lines.

Unfortunately, in some states the definition might more accurately be “the power of legislators to decide who they want to represent and who they want to get off their backs.”

One state where that definition has proven true is Illinois. And you need not look further than the story of President Barack Obama for confirmation.

In 2001, when the Illinois state legislature was drawing new district lines (a requirement after every census), then-State Senator Barack Obama made a decision. Set on higher office, Mr. Obama had already run and lost a congressional race in a heavily poor, heavily African-American district. He needed a stronger base. In a shrewd political move, Mr. Obama calculated that he would benefit from a district with more affluent and higher educated residents who might better identify with an academic from the University of Chicago.

As a member of the state legislature, Mr. Obama was able to draw the new lines to his exact needs. His revamped district was still majority African-American in makeup, but it now included many of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Chicago. It was this richer, more-connected demographic that Mr. Obama leveraged to launch and fund his successful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2004 and, from there, his bid for the presidency.

Now that’s Illinois. Is Alabama just as bad?

The short answer to that question is that – if residents don’t pay attention – it could be.

In 2020, the Census may strip a congressional seat from Alabama (seats are allocated based on a state’s total population as determined in the Census). That’s because, in addition to growing at a slower rate than other states, Alabama finds itself dead last in the country in responding to the Census as of mid-September. This should not be tenable to Alabamians. If more people don’t respond to the census, states like California will get both our congressional seats and the federal funding (your own tax dollars) that we otherwise would receive had more of us answered a simple form.

This means that, on top of the normal changing of district lines to account for population shifts, Alabama’s congressional delegation will be influencing hard to not end up in the district with two incumbent Members of Congress vying for one seat in the House (although that election will certainly be one of the more interesting ones of Alabama history).

As for the state legislature, the Census will also require those districts to be redrawn to account for an increasingly urban and suburban population (although there will remain 105 House and 35 State Senate districts). This promises to take up all the air in the State House, making large policy shifts in other areas even more difficult. This reality is another reason Governor Ivey should consider a special session this year to address coronavirus-related issues in which legislators won’t be distracted by redistricting.

Regardless, the redistricting process, which will occur during the 2021 regular session, is lengthy and detailed. Multiple public hearings will be held, maps will be drawn and redrawn, and the legislature will have to debate the fully redistricted Alabama in open session. Compared to other states which allow their legislatures to draw their district lines, this process is notably transparent.

As with any situation in which power is at stake, there is, however, the opportunity for corruption. Legislators looking to benefit themselves through the redistricting process, whether by following Mr. Obama’s lead and giving themselves a wealthier constituency or by ensuring their competition is in another district, will be given the chance.

Thankfully, there is a check on this power: the people. The system, in order for it to work correctly, requires residents of Alabama to understand that they have a role and a responsibility in government decisions, including the redistricting process. As transparent as the redistricting process is compared to other states, a window is worthless if it isn’t used.

When the Alabama Legislature holds its hearings across the state regarding newly-drawn district maps, the audience should be full of residents ready to look through the window and give a well-informed opinion. As the process continues, Alabamians ought to be calling their representatives with input. Believe it or not, these small efforts create real impact and reduce opportunities for smoky secret deals.

If, however, we sit back and ignore the entire process and the window into it we’ve been given, we best not be surprised when we later find out what’s gone on in the room where it happens.

To see a new report on the status of the 2020 Census in Alabama, click here or visit alabamapolicy.org.

Parker Snider is Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Insitute.

, and 11 hours ago

College football power rankings: Bama stands ready at No. 1; Ohio State welcomed back

The big kids come back to play on Saturday. Until that happens, there is one more week of the Yellowhammer college football power rankings without the SEC having been on the field.

Yellowhammer’s rankings are determined by the combined votes of our experts. Their individual votes can be seen with an explanation of their rankings.

Here is where we are after week 3.

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Zack Shaw

1. Clemson: Clemson has badly beaten two overmatched opponents in the first two weeks. That is exactly what you expect great teams to do.

2. Alabama: Nick Saban and company deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

3. Ohio State: Welcome to the party! Simply by announcing their intention to play this season, Ryan Day, Justin Fields and the Buckeyes deserve heavy consideration.

4. Oklahoma: The explosive Sooner offense and consistent success, recently, give Oklahoma the nod over the remaining teams at this point.

5. Texas: The Longhorns have one win under their belt already and are poised to add many more in 2020 led by QB Sam Ehlinger and coach Tom Herman.

6. Georgia: Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs will get their opportunity to move up on this list as the SEC kicks off this week.

7. Miami: The Hurricanes have the best resume in the country, so far. Led by explosive playmaker D’Eriq King, and a talented offense, Miami could move up this list even further if the defense improves.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s Tigers get their first chance to prove they belong in this list against Kentucky in week 1. Auburn has enough good players, will the Tigers have enough consistency?

Tim Howe

1. Alabama: Without even playing, it has become more obvious that the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team in the country.

2. Ohio State: Complaining, threats and chest thumping was Ohio State’s reaction to ____. (Possible answers: 1) last year’s playoff loss, 2) the Big Ten cancelling its season, or 3) pretty much anything.)

3. Georgia: The D’Wan Mathis hype train picked up considerable speed this week. We are buying stock in that version of the Georgia offense.

4. Clemson: Dabo Swinney’s second team never scored against The Citadel, a team playing a four-game schedule this season.

5. Florida: Kyle Trask’s journey to become a starting quarterback on a top-5 team is not highlighted enough.

6. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost another key player to an opt-out this week. We want to believe this is the year for the Jimbo Fisher-Kellen Mond combo to break through, but we’re getting awfully anxious.

7. Texas: Same scenario in Austin as with their in-state rival…”we want to believe this is the year.” The Longhorns enjoyed a solid win against a bad team last week. Not too much else was learned.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s Tigers occupy the spot previously held by a North Carolina team which will not face an opponent between September 12 and October 3. We cannot wait to see what Chad Morris does to the Auburn offense.

Paul Shashy

1. Alabama: Game week is here! RTR. Last year was unusual because the playoff did not include Alabama. This year will be different. Alabama is reloaded and ready to roll. Linebacker Dylan Moses returning is huge, and Alabama’s defense will be back to their standard. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, and Jalen Waddle will lead the offense.

2. Clemson: Clemson will have college football’s most explosive duo in running back Travis Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Clemson has the two best players in the ACC and one of the country’s easiest schedules; they’ll be in the playoff.

3. Ohio State: The BIG 10s sudden return has jolted projections and rankings. Look for Ohio State to be playoff contenders, especially with Justin Fields at QB.

4. Texas A&M: Texas A&M brings back nearly everyone from last year. I believe this is the year Jimbo Fisher gets his shot. They go to Auburn and Alabama, which is rough, but I think they’ll win one of the two.

5. Notre Dame: 2-0 is a good start, but they didn’t look all that strong vs. Duke. Notre Dame is one of the more experienced teams in college football this year; that’s why they hold the five spot. As usual, they have a much easier schedule than most other teams in my top 8. Notre Dame vs. Clemson in November will be one of the great games of the year.

6. Texas: They looked fine in their first game against UTEP. Texas brings back much of their talent, and I think it’s time for Tom Herman to finally get Texas back to what they once were as a powerhouse in CFB.

7. Auburn: Bo Nix is returning and should be much improved, especially considering the depth and speed at wide receiver. They should be a popular dark horse choice for the college football playoff.

8. Oklahoma: Easy cupcake game to start out, but they looked strong. Since they were stomped in the playoff last year, Oklahoma’s defense is returning eight starters. Because of this, they’ll be much improved. Oklahoma vs. Texas in October will be one of the biggest games of the year.