Civilian First Responder Conference: A “Valuable Day of Learning”

Civilian First Responder Conference:

A “Valuable Day of Learning”

by Ron Garrett | Guest Writer & WAR volunteer

Did you know that last year in the United States
there were nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking?1
(And those are just the ones we know about.)

Earlier this year, I was invited to attend and review a Civilian First Responder (CFR) conference that was held at Grace Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. It was a valuable full day of learning presented by Women At Risk, International.

Because I have had no training on human trafficking and no experience working with this issue, my previous knowledge regarding this subject was limited. I had watched a few docudramas, but as products of traditional Hollywood writers and producers, these movies generally left me wondering whether their portrayal provided an accurate picture of human trafficking. I found that the CFR conference provided the clarity and accuracy that I sorely needed.

How does someone become a victim of trafficking?

In this CFR training, I learned what the human trafficking “on-ramp” looks like. Human trafficking may involve an entire network of men and women who initiate contact with potential victims. This network can extend to some teens who work as recruiters for pimps and madams. A perpetrator has something to gain by exploiting youth and others. Although deceit and cruelty are common elements, it’s usually the money that motivates them.

I was surprised to find that, in many cases, the recruiters are women. Where a man might appear creepy or pushy, a woman may be more effective at building a false sense of security. This faux comfort creates a gradual progression towards bringing another woman or a young person into bondage.

While some traffickers build false friendships, another effective type of deception, where perpetrators may operate in a more public setting, is the lure of a job offer. Surprisingly, this can start with an innocent looking advertisement for a babysitting job or a modeling gig. Little does the respondent know that a more sinister agenda is soon to be revealed.

What does a trafficking victim look like?

Although it is true that poverty can put people in vulnerable situations, not all victims are poor—and not all are women. A person of any age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status can fall prey to traffickers.

While victims can be adults, teens, or children, a teen or young adult’s lack of life experience makes them especially vulnerable to predators. Unfortunately, perpetrators know how to present themselves in ways that can draw a teen into some “new venture” that has been contrived. The desire to be involved in something that seems fresh and exciting—or to be thought “cool” in the eyes of their peers—can sway a potential victim in the direction of making a poor, but life-changing, decision.

If a youth has a history of misrepresenting or withholding information from parents or other authority figures, it is a short leap for them to fabricate stories about where they are going or what they will be doing. In their quest for excitement, they might feel justified in contorting stories about plans to meet up with a new “friend.”

A person of any age, gender,
race, or socioeconomic status
can fall prey to traffickers.

Children are also trafficked—frequently by someone they know, and often by someone who lives within a quarter-mile of the child’s home. I heard first-hand witness accounts of situations where a child was sold by her own mother and others in which the mother was the primary sexual predator!

These stories have helped me realize what some human trafficking victims have had to endure. Often through no fault of their own, they have been lured or coerced into an existence filled with lies, betrayal, and great pain. Many have had significant portions of their lives stolen from them.

Would you recognize signs of human trafficking
in your community?

Human trafficking can take place anywhere: in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. It may even be taking place in your own neighborhood—or in mine. If it were, would we recognize it? Would we know how to respond?

Because of this conference, I have become more aware of everyday warning signs. For instance, if a child wears the same clothes every day, that could be a red flag. Another warning sign might be that a child does not go to school. An additional area to note is whether the adults interacting with this child seem to be there for the long term. Does the interaction seem kind and familiar or threatening and abusive?

If a teen is asked to show identification and has none, he or she may be a victim of trafficking. The presence of an older, overly generous male companion can also be a warning sign. It could be that this adult is not a friend at all but rather is an enforcer posing as a boyfriend.

To be sure, without this training, I would not have been able recognize these specific situations or behaviors as potential signs of trafficking—nor would I have been equipped to respond appropriately.

How prepared are you?

Human trafficking is not the kind of thing we typically talk about at the dinner table or around the water cooler. Because we talk about it rarely, or not at all, there are major gaps in our understanding of what we can do to help. For me, the CFR training filled in a number of missing pieces.

We don’t have to work in law enforcement
or social services to make a difference
in the battle with human trafficking.

Having attended many conferences over the years on a range of different subjects, I can truthfully say that I found the CFR conference to be one of the most beneficial of all. The materials provided were very complete and quite helpful. All of the speakers had compelling stories to tell, based not on things they had read or heard but on their direct personal experiences with human trafficking. It says a lot to me that Women At Risk, International’s founder—the conference’s main speaker—has worked with this issue for more than thirty years.

We don’t have to work in law enforcement or social services to make a difference in the battle against human trafficking. By educating ourselves, and then educating others, we can bring forth an increase in awareness. The greater the number of eyes and ears tuned into this problem, the more that will be uncovered. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Simply shining a light into this darkness—raising awareness—is an important and effective action that all of us are able to take.

Your next step

If you were to see any of these signs in your community, would you recognize them? Would you know what to do? How much do you really know about human trafficking? Now is the time to learn how YOU could help prevent another person from becoming a victim of human trafficking.

To learn more about attending or hosting a CFR conference in your area, please visit our website. You may also contact us by email or call us at 616.855.0796. Don’t see a conference in your area and can’t host? In addition to our live seminars, WAR, Int’l now offers CFR conferences in digital form so you can experience this training at a time and place that works for you! Click here for more information!


  1. Statistic taken from the 2018 National Human Trafficking Hotline Fact Sheet, which documents 10,949 human trafficking cases based on contacts to the hotline. This figure does not reflect the full scope or prevalence of human trafficking in the U.S., for which it is nearly impossible to find or compile accurate data.


Guest writer Ron Garrett serves as one of WAR, Int’l’s many faithful volunteers. A mechanical engineer by profession, he has also taught engineering design & manufacturing courses at Grand Valley State University and is now enjoying an active retirement. In addition to his service with WAR, Int’l, Ron also volunteers for several West Michigan refugee resettlement organizations. This is his first writing project for WAR, Int’l.

WAR, Int’l’s writing & program staff would also like to acknowledge Taylor Laird for her assistance with the editing of this article during her internship with us.

published October 2019

Daring Daughters Event

Missions Conference for Christian Women and Teen Girls

Prepare yourself for a time of life-impacting training, worship, prayer, workshops, and leadership connections. Rebecca McDonald of WAR, Int’l and Ann Dunagan of Daring Daughters will be speaking.

Ann Dunagan is the director of Daring Daughters — a mission-minded organization that helps mentor girls and women across the nation for God’s Great Commission. Her mission is to empower women to serve and follow their passions at any age or stage of life. You will have the opportunity to connect with like-minded women who have a heart to serve. Are you willing to dare to dream, dare to cry, and dare to obey God? Join us for life-impacting training, worship, prayer, and leadership connections.

Session One:  DARE TO DREAM (Daring to Know Your God and Discovering Your P.A.S.S.I.O.N.)

Session Two: DARE TO CRY for the needs of the World

Session Three: DARE to OBEY God’s call on your life

Event Location:
Women At Risk International Headquarters
2790 44th St SW
Wyoming, MI 49519


Sorry. This registration is no longer available.


By Becky McDonald, President & Founder
July 4, 2018

This week the Military’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, was awarded to deceased Lt. Garlin Conner and given to his widow. Lt. Conner’s incredible bravery and sacrifice earned him many awards, including three Purple Hearts. His inspiring story is a reminder that it is in our DNA to rise up in a crisis and put the good of others over ourselves.

On a cold January morning in 1945, Lt. Conner ran into enemy fire and dove into a shallow trench in front of Nazi lines. He lay there in plain sight for three hours, directing Allied artillery over the phone as they took out the enemy. When the advancing enemy was only yards away from him, he ordered his artillery to shell his position, knowing he’d die. He did not.

Upon returning home, Lt. Conner went back to farming in Kentucky despite seven combat wounds that left him somewhat disabled. Two things struck me about this man and his story:


Freedom comes at great price.

It is not cheap. Bullets, tanks and nuclear missiles have price tags. Freedom is priceless. As an organization that fights to set the captive free in today’s wars, we know how expensive freedom is.

Our partners pour their lives out in the trenches, coming face to face with evil. Often they choose to live in situations that put their families at risk as well. They run into the darkness and lay in plain sight directing survivors where to flee to safety. Despite battle fatigue and combat wounds, they carry on through sheer will power and a powerful passion for freedom.

Our survivors struggle daily with the lasting physical and emotional pain that hovers over them long after their freedom. People may forget, but the body keeps score and remembers the horrors. Many of them rise up to return to the darkness, this time to rescue others cowering there waiting for someone to hear their cries. They join with us in being voices for the embattled.

Our donors sacrificially partner in setting the captive free. In the real theatre of war, there are eight people behind every one foot soldiers. Our donors and staff are quietly behind the scenes doing the hard work of creating a legacy of safe places. It’s only because of our faithful donors and faithful staff that the lights were on and phone bill paid when a 911 rescue call came in one Friday, resulting in a girl being rescued on Saturday and in a treatment program by Sunday. Our staff chooses to work in a nonprofit where the monetary rewards are not high, but setting captives free is priceless. They may suffer from secondary PTSD as they daily lift broken lives to safety, whisper words of worth and dignity, and do the numbing drudgery of paperwork to make sure our efforts are done decently and in order and with excellence.

Freedom in our nation is a luxury.

I remember well, while in boarding school in Pakistan, going to the U.S. embassy for a 4th of July celebration. The Marine guards stood tall and gorgeous in their uniforms, symbolizing what we believe in as a nation. I was in awe of men and women who fought to maintain the freedoms we have here. As an American girl growing up in Talibani lands, I understood how valuable our freedoms were. My girlfriends had no choices. In a worst-case scenario, we could get on a plane and fly home to the land of the free. They could not escape their destiny. I could choose what I wanted to do with my life, what I wore, whom I dated and ultimately married, what I believed or didn’t believe about God, who I played with. My playmates could not. It was chosen for them.

When my children were small, they mocked the fact that when we lived in the U.S., the McDonald home sported patriotic buntings from the 4th of July until Labor Day. But this little American grew up seeing what a lack of freedom meant for those I cared about. I wanted to hammer that into my babies’ heads. Hold your freedom with gentle hands. It is a luxury. Yes, we teach that it is a right. But my observation is that if someone takes away our “rights,” we react in the extreme. Unless you are very self-aware, believing you are “entitled” to something may mean you are not really grateful for it, but rather expect it.

I preferred my children to grow up seeing their “rights” as a luxury to be handled with gratitude and gentleness. Luxuries are those things you guard carefully, while rights are those things you demand. Entitlement can quickly slide into spoiled-brat mode. I wanted my children to understand the subtle difference. I will never take my “rights” in this land for granted, even when they are trampled on. Maybe especially when they are trampled on. Luxuries are those things someone worked hard for. Certainly, a man named Garlin “Murl” Conner worked hard for my luxury of living in this free land. He paid the price for my luxury. I am so very grateful for that. Now it is my turn to work hard for the luxury of freedom for those in my pathway that need freedom. This I will do until there is no breath left in my body…fight for freedom gratefully and with a degree of elegance and gentleness.


My other take-away makes me laugh out loud: This “little man” (as his wife called him), all of 5-foot-6, was a 12-foot giant of courage, a war hero, celebrated in the oval office and all over the news. Yet he finished his life as a farmer.

One of the questions I get asked all the time by college girls is, “How do you find a soul mate, a man of great character?” I shock them by saying, “Marry a farmer.” I have observed throughout my life journey that some of the men I admire the most—men with an incredible work ethic, who are responsible, salt of the earth, successful but not too big for their britches—started out as farmers. Abe Lincoln is one. The list includes Presidents, Fortune 500 leaders, faith leaders, senators, military leaders, successful business men I know, and on and on.

There is something about a kid having to slop the hogs and plow the back forty before going to school, whether they feel like it or not. There is something about those who work the soil that makes them capable, responsible, driven to do the impossible, and humbled by the things they have no control over (such as weather, in the farmer’s case). It’s not about having a fancy degree. Many farmers do eventually get those degrees. But they also just do what needs to be done.

Garlin Conner just did what needed to be done. He ran into enemy fire with a telephone, set up camp under the enemy’s noses, and directed one attack at a time, killing hundreds and saving thousands. His wife said he never talked about his “bravery.” He just came home and became a farmer.

I happen to be married to one of the hardest working men I have ever known. He did not grow up farming; his dad was a college prof. But he spent every day with his football buddies, who were all farm kids, and that work ethic rubbed off. People in small-town farm communities salt the earth and don’t get too big for their britches. Yet my husband grew up to get a Ph.D. and serve internationally for decades. I’m a fan of dating farm kids! Degrees aren’t what make character. Hard work builds character and teaches one to respond in the face of crisis with the best interests of others at heart.

Today the family of WAR, Int’l salutes Lt. Garlin Conner—a farmer who had the courage to do the impossible, who didn’t brag about it, and who then went back to tilling the earth despite crippling injuries that would have had most people fighting for disability and hanging up their plows. We also salute our staff, donors, partners, survivors, and constituency, who all deserve medals.

Light Will Always Triumph: a Personal Story

by Whitney Kristine Tompkins, guest writer June 2018

These days, I find it incredibly difficult to shuffle through the darkness that seems to engulf the world around us. News stations and online media outlets scream of the despairing situation in which our country, and the world, has found itself. From mass school shootings and political uneasiness to the sexual-assault culture, it sometimes feels as though there is no end in sight. So many people are walking through brokenness. As we continue to stare into the vast darkness of our current situation, it is easy to feel that we can do nothing except walk away. Many experience a desolation that no words could begin to express.

These moments of solemn reflection into the pain of our world and the heartache of other human beings often brings me to my knees. I am left feeling disheartened and discouraged. I question whether my passion for human beings and my pursuit of social justice are enough to impact the shattered world we live in. How can I, one person, change the darkness—and will my voice even be heard? It is so easy to want to run and hide from what is going on. In a world that fights hard to silence those who want to be beacons of light, the path of least resistance is to stay silent.


There have been times in my life when I received the gift of watching how light brought into a dark situation changed the atmosphere—when I experienced what it is like to have hope spoken into my own situations. Growing up, I struggled severely with mental-health issues and the pain that comes from the brokenness in the world around us. Some days required every ounce of energy and push that I had so I could make it to the next tomorrow. This became the story I lived every single day for over seven years.

Each day brought questions: “Am I worth anything? Is this pain going to end? Am I alone in my fight?” As time continued and I got older, things started to shift and the pain slowly began to ease. I began throwing myself into school and work, attempting to prove to everyone around me that I was “worthy.” However, even time and my accomplishments would not completely erase the wounds that I had experienced, and I still wrestled with the many scars left by my past.

This past year, that darkness began to resurface, and I experienced brokenness again. All the effort I had thrown into proving myself to those around me began to lose its power. My heart’s insecurities started to make me question whether I could ever have an impact on this world. Was there any way that someone as broken and riddled with pain as I was could speak light into the darkness? How could I even begin to think of trying to impact another person’s world when my own was falling apart at the seams?

It was around this time, in February 2017, that I applied for entrance into a graduate counseling program at a local college, to which I was ultimately accepted. However, I allowed the fear of my own brokenness to stop me from pursuing that program. I told them that I could not start and would be deferring my acceptance.

Fast forward a year to 2018. I started to get more involved at my local church and met a great couple whom I now call my second parents. While I was over at their house to watch the Super Bowl, I struck up a conversation with my “second dad,” who is now working as a counselor. It was through this conversation that he began to shine light into my darkness. He reminded me that it is broken people who can relate to the broken and hurting. Through this talk, I realized I did not have to be perfect to help change the world; I just had to be willing.

I am happy and excited to say I will be starting my master’s degree in counseling in the fall. I do believe it was this one conversation that opened the door for the light to shine into my life. For the first time in years, I allowed that light to illuminate a hope I can cling to.

It is easy to look around and forget that hope still exists and that it is worth fighting for. Don’t allow your brokenness or the silence of this world stop you from shouting into the abyss of pain. Tell your story and speak up for the broken. Do not fear, because you never know who may need your light to navigate through the darkness.


Weinstein, MeToo, and TheyToo

Brittany Swart, WAR, Int’l Intern
June 19, 2018

As the black SUV pulled up, the crowd pulled out their cameras and phones, and as the man of the hour stepped out, devices started clicking and flashing. People pushed forward, jockeying for the best spot, as the crowd clamored to see him. Most had likely arrived early; this was an exciting day. The moment had come. The crowd, however, was not at a long-awaited premiere but at a courthouse. And the man they had come to see was there not to hear his praises sung, but to hear a list of charges filed against him.

The man was Harvey Weinstein, cofounder and former chief executive of the independent film studio The Weinstein Company. Weinstein, accompanied by law enforcement, turned himself in to authorities on May 25, 2018, nearly eight months after allegations of sexual assault began to surface. Thanks to accusations made by singer Lucia Evans and an unidentified woman, Weinstein was charged with rape, a criminal sex act, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct. While he maintains his innocence (Weinstein pleaded not guilty on June 5), more than 80 women have accused the film executive of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. Known for having produced some of the biggest movies in Hollywood, he is now recognized as the match that set a movement on fire.


“Me, too” – this short phrase has created massive waves of shocking revelation and outrage in our society. Started by Tarana Burke, founder of the nonprofit youth organization Just Be, Inc., the #MeToo movement has let women share their stories of rape, sexual assault, and harassment on social media in solidarity with others. Ever since dozens of women came out of hiding to accuse Weinstein of rape and abuse, the movement has been gathering steam and continuing to speed up, bringing down such powerful and influential men as Roy Moore, Charlie Rose, Russell Simmons, Mario Batali, Danny Masterson, and Bill Cosby.

Alleged to have perpetrated acts ranging from indecent exposure to rape, these men (and dozens more) have all been accused of committing various sexual crimes against women. Most have either resigned their positions or been fired because of the allegations. Some have been charged; a jury in a recent re-trial found Bill Cosby guilty of sexual assault.

We have watched as the #MeToo movement has exposed some of the most influential, beloved men in popular culture, portraying or revealing them as abusers of women, while also validating many abuse survivors whose quest is to be heard and taken seriously. This movement has made many of us stop and rethink what is acceptable socially and what is not.

Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) stands with these women who have bravely and boldly made their voices heard—not only for themselves, but also for others facing the same battles. We believe that darkness loses its grip when experiences are brought to light. Some of our staff have long given voice to their own stories, knowing that one person’s courage to say #MeToo may free another from the imprisonment of thinking, “only me.” Whether on social media or with a trusted individual or group, sharing their stories can help survivors of assault, abuse, and other forms of risk to find others who will walk with them on the journey to healing.


As the #MeToo movement continues to empower thousands of assault and abuse survivors to find their voices, let us remember to stand up for those who are still unheard, including thousands of sex-trafficking victims throughout the United States. Once lured into the sex industry by force, coercion, or fraud, many victims are not only used but also abused by their pimps or traffickers, who may beat, drug, threaten, or isolate them to keep them cooperative and silent.

Like the celebrities who have come forward with their stories, #TheyToo have faced harassment, assault, and rape—many on a daily basis. #TheyToo have been denied the dignity and respect they deserve. #TheyToo have felt afraid and helpless, and #TheyToo have been bullied into silence. Although they have no platform on which to speak out, #TheyToo deserve to be heard.

As more victims are heard and more perpetrators are held accountable, let’s guide these rivers of righteousness and justice down to the thousands of women, men, girls, and boys who are trafficked in the United States and preyed upon by corrupt individuals. They may not be able to fight for themselves, but we can fight for them: through awareness events and preventative outreach, calls to politicians and the media, and everyday conversations. Just as the light exposed Weinstein and others, we can shine a light on this billion-dollar criminal enterprise. As the #MeToo movement gave voice to many, let us be a voice for the victims of trafficking.

Because #TheyToo deserve to be heard.

Everyone can do something to fight harassment, sexual assault, and human trafficking. To learn how to recognize and respond to these issues in your own community, consider taking part in a Civilian First Responder conference. Women at Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) has educated thousands of professionals and ordinary citizens across the United States through live anti-trafficking training conferences. Now, for the first time, these trainings are now available in a digital format, allowing anyone anywhere to access this training! We also offer a variety of other opportunities to get involved, help the most vulnerable, and make a difference.