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WC Alumna fights human trafficking

Seven years ago, Clarin Gniffke’s eyes were opened to a tragic scenario that changed her life forever.

Clarin Gniffke photo

Now, the former Weatherford College student (2009-11) is a leading advocate to save as many as she can from the terror of human trafficking as she works with the North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NTCAHT) - a group of organizations and individuals that provide health, counseling, legal and case management services in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

“I attended one of the monthly meetings and met a whole host of people working in a united front to eradicate this issue in North Texas,” Gniffke recalled. “I was inspired by the non-profits, law enforcement officers, attorneys and health care providers who wanted to learn from each other, help each other and ultimately create a seamless process to carry survivors from discovery to healing.”

She has been a member of NTCAHT for seven years and the Public Awareness Committee co-chair for the past three years.

“Clarin is an integral part of the NTCAHT,” said Joy Brooks, NTCAHT awareness co-chair with Gniffke. “Her advocacy efforts have brought awareness to the problem of human trafficking here in Texas. She has fought for policies to change both on a state and federal level.”

Gniffke works with the NTCAHT Executive Board to plan canvassing events and an annual press conference during Human Trafficking Awareness month (January) that highlights the work of an exceptional individual or organization. So far, she said the Champion of Freedom Award has honored individuals and groups like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Dallas and Fort Worth Police Departments and EarthX, an international nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to educating and inspiring people and organizations to take action towards a more sustainable future worldwide.

“The most rewarding part of the annual press conference is being able to award higher education scholarships to area survivors who are nominated by their case managers to pursue certifications, a GED or attend college,” Gniffke said. “NTCAHT has partnered with the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the North Texas Hotel Association to raise funds for these scholarships, and they are truly life-changing for the survivors.”

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In January, Gniffke was invited to attend the White House Human Trafficking Summit as an area leader for North Texas.

“Not only was it a wonderful honor to be at the White House, I was also incredibly humbled and inspired to hear from two survivors who spoke during the summit,” she said. “President Trump also signed an executive order adding additional funding for organizations across the nation that work to combat trafficking in their communities.

“The most meaningful statement of the day came from an incredible survivor, and the newest member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human trafficking, Bella Hounakey: ‘To truly be survivor-centered and informed means to not only prioritize survivors’ needs or wishes and service delivery, it must also include meaningful collaboration with survivors to inform the design and implementation of the very policies and programs that affect them. No survivors should ever be viewed by their trafficking or lived experiences alone.’”

Gniffke transferred from WC to Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in communications. She suffered a setback in an automobile accident in which she was simply sitting in her car when another slammed into it. She went through several months of physical therapy.

But Gniffke continued moving forward, studying master’s degree courses online at Regent.

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Gniffke also spent some time in Quantico, Virginia, undergoing training in intelligence analysis, then moved to Dallas to run a Texas state senator’s office. In 2019, she started her own investigation and political consulting business.

“I have enjoyed working with clients in Texas and DC,” she said.

When asked if she has any political aspirations of her own, she responded, “My role right now lets me support good candidates who are willing to serve politically. After working in politics for almost a decade, I have seen all the good, bad and ugly, and am not sure I want to sign up for that.”

Instead, her major battle is against human trafficking.

“Clarin has a clear understanding of the issue of human trafficking and how to connect that with policy. She has been instrumental in the NTCAHT’s public outreach and is a strong channel to our state and local government leadership,” said Chad Frymore, executive director of NTCAHT.

Gniffke understands she and her partners in NTCAHT and across the nation and world are in a tough battle.

“In 2016, there were an estimated 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas alone. I would like to think that number has decreased in the last four years, but realistically, it probably hasn’t,” she said.

She noted that, according to the CNN Freedom Project, after drug trafficking, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world. It is also considered the fastest growing, taking in over $30 billion a year.

“With statistics like these, the fight against human trafficking feels overwhelming,” she said. “Social media has become a hotbed of activity for traffickers. But at the same time, the anti-trafficking movement has gained steam. There are social media awareness movements, billboards, PSAs, hotlines and posters. The more we can educate the public about what human trafficking looks like and what to do when you think you see it, the more victims can be liberated from slavery.”

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Gniffke said everyone can join the fight, largely by just being aware. Signs to look for, she said, include paying closer attention to the behavior of those around you everywhere you go. Keep an eye out even at places you feel most comfortable.

Also, look for red flags such as physical abuse signs, including burn marks, bruises or cuts; unexplained absences from class; new tattoos (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims - tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking); older boyfriends or new friends with a different lifestyle. Traffickers often do not allow victims to go into public alone or speak for themselves.

Sex traffickers approach potential victims in a variety of ways, including pretending to be a potential boyfriend or friend, contacting them via social media such as Facebook, posting newspaper or Internet ads for jobs and opportunities or even threatening or kidnapping them.

“If you think you see some of these warning signs, call the police and report as much detail as you can,” Gniffke said. “Give law enforcement the opportunity to investigate. You never know, your report could save someone’s life.”

by Rick Mauch

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