Pioneering Anti-Human Trafficking Group Shuts Down
Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans, or OATH, was one of the first of its kind in Oklahoma. The goal was to fight the growing problem of people being bought, sold and traded. Thursday, the organization announced it was ending operations.
In a statement on the group's Facebook page, the board of directors says Mark Elam, the founder and executive director of OATH, resigned. The board said it "made the difficult decision to dissolve OATH, Inc."
"I was so shocked because it's made such a difference in my life," said Kiera Samantha when she learned OATH was shutting down. Samantha says she attended an OATH seminar where she heard another trafficking survivor speak and heard her own story.
"For 22 years I carried the shame and the stigma of me considering myself a prostitute," Samantha said, "Even though I had been kidnapped and forced by the Crips gang to be a prostitute. I always looked at myself as a prostitute and not someone who was prostituted."
Samantha began speaking to other groups at OATH events. She hoped her story would help other victims they didn't have to live with the shame associated with human trafficking. "If people can realize it is not a shameful thing to talk about that can give the girls the strength to go ok this is not my fault, I am at this moment a victim but I can become a survivor."
Neither OATH nor Elam responded to Fox 25's requests for comment about the decision to dissolve. However other anti-human trafficking organizations say OATH and Elam paved the way for their organizations to begin working with victims.
"He opened the door, he put human trafficking, those words if you will, on the map in Oklahoma," said Dr. Lori Basey of No Boundaries International.
Basey said No Boundaries began its work around the same time OATH started in Oklahoma. At first they had an international mission to fight human trafficking. Then they realized there was a need on the home front. It is a need that has to be met regardless of which organization takes the lead.
"This is such an important message for Oklahomans that the issue of human trafficking cannot be dependent upon one man or one woman and one organization," Basey told Fox 25.
"We as Oklahomans have to pull together, have to rally together and have to agree even to disagree on some of the methodologies but we have got to address human trafficking as a state," Basey said.