Rescue Innocence 5K draws 65 in fight against human trafficking

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 6/5/24

LINN   —   In its eighth year, supporters of the fight against human trafficking gathered at the Linn City Park for a 5K Run/Walk to benefit Rescue Innocence with a theme of …

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Rescue Innocence 5K draws 65 in fight against human trafficking


LINN    In its eighth year, supporters of the fight against human trafficking gathered at the Linn City Park for a 5K Run/Walk to benefit Rescue Innocence with a theme of “Giving Hope.”

The 65 participants registered for the event traveled to Maguire Park and back.

Rescue Innocence Acting Administrative Coordinator Summer Cain attended the event on behalf of founder Brent Messimer. She made clear that human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery.

“It encompasses various forms of exploitation, including forced labor, sexual exploitation, and organ trafficking,” said Cain. “It preys on vulnerable individuals, often targeting marginalized communities, migrants, and children. The trafficking industry generates billions of dollars annually, thriving in the shadows of society’s indifference and systemic vulnerabilities. To combat this heinous crime, a multifaceted approach is imperative.”

Cain noted that raising awareness is crucial to empower communities and potential victims to recognize the crime and seek help. That’s where Rescue Innocence, a non-profit organization in Columbia, comes in, seeking to end human trafficking through education, empowerment, and partnering with other organizations to find a safe place for healing and growth.

“Thank you to the wonderful volunteers who put this run on every year,” said Cain. “Educating our youth about their rights and the dangers of human trafficking is crucial. It’s sad to bring up, but in today’s technology-dependent world, predators have easy access to our youth. With apps on our phones such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (now called X), and a newer platform this year called BeReal, predators already have an ‘in’ to begin grooming our children. Most importantly, we must actively push our government, legislation, and law enforcement to strengthen their forces, hold traffickers accountable, address trafficking across borders, and dismantle their networks. That includes providing adequate resources and training to these agencies.”

Additionally, Cain said there must be support for survivors. “Empowering them through rehabilitation and reintegration programs is vital in helping them rebuild their lives and break the cycle of exploitation,” she added. “By adopting a holistic approach that combines prevention, protection, and prosecution measures, society can work toward eradicating human trafficking and ensuring the protection of human rights for all.”

Cain’s brother-in-law, Messimer, founded Rescue Innocence in 2010.

“During this time, Brent was in South Africa for missions and saw an immediate problem when girls were being trafficked on the street during the World Cup Soccer,” Cain noted. “In 2012, he brought Rescue Innocence to Central Missouri to help those affected in our area. Brent continues to work in Africa with our other non-profit, Bare Necessities, bringing nearly 300 children out of homelessness and the slums, where they are easily trafficked, and giving them protection in our dormitory and school.”

To support those impacted by human trafficking, Rescue Innocence offers a life group for survivors. “The group has become a family, consistently growing,” said Cain. “They have a meal together, share a devotional time, and share ways to cope and thrive. Not only are we actively working with survivors, we work with the perpetrators who are trying to turn their lives around. By keeping these men and women accountable, we are, in turn, helping countless potential victims not to have to experience this tragedy.”

Organizer Diane Hopke said her biggest goal for this small town is to ensure no one is victimized by human trafficking. She noted that many people dismiss the possibility of this happening in Osage County.

“The truth is that human trafficking is found in every state in the nation, including urban, suburban, and rural areas,” she said. “It is nothing short of 21st-century slavery.”

Phoenix Rising Inc. defines human trafficking as the following:

— The transfer and harboring of individuals through force or coercion for the use of sexual exploitation or forced labor. 

— Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a commercial transaction that involves the sexual exploitation of a child, such as the prostitution of children and child pornography.

​— Child exploitation includes prostitution, child pornography, and sexual torture.

— Many are repeatedly raped, gang-raped, beaten, isolated, branded, tortured, terrorized, and threatened with death.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, signs include sudden changes in academic performance; behavioral issues such as avoiding eye contact, gaps in memory, or resisting being touched; physically, victims may have visible scars or bruises, appear malnourished, or show evidence of drug or alcohol addiction; low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or fear, or sudden outbursts of anger may be present; and socially, victims may have a much older partner, live in an unstable or abusive home, or have an online sexual profile.

Hopke noted that the FBI, Homeland Security, and several not-for-profit organizations, such as Rescue Innocence, offer resources.

She encouraged everyone to be vigilant, particularly of their children and young people.

Cain agreed. “I hope this raises your awareness that there is a severe problem in our society — yes, even in Central Missouri,” she offered. “For parents, I encourage you to educate your children on ‘stranger danger’ and monitor the apps on their electronics. Technology can be a great way to communicate with friends and family, but be aware of those lurking in the shadows. I know this information may not be fun to hear, but it is real.”

The fundraiser generated proceeds of $5,583 for Rescue Innocence.

The overall female winner was Kellien Kuschel, and the male winner was Luke Brubaker. A complete list of winners and additional photos from the event appear in this week’s sports section.

Hopke noted there were 40 sponsors, mostly local businesses or individuals, and expressed her appreciation for their support of the event.

Gold sponsors were Community Christian Church, American Realty & Dev., LLC, Annie’s Station, Casper’s 66, Classic Buildings, Cole County Industries, Inc., Curt Kliethermes Construction, Diana & Zelda Mitchell, Diane & Dennis Hopke, DJ’s Repair Service LLC, Edward Jones (Kurt Baker), Gloria & Ed Scherf, Hometown Lumber & Hardware, L&M Rentals/Deeken Farms, Legends Bank, Linn Fire Protection District (LFPD), Linn First Church, Linn Lions Club, Linn Printing, Inc., Linn Shoe Store, Mid America Bank, Moonlight Dent, Morton Chapel, Mox Properties, Muenks Insurance, Rudroff Bus Co., Schnitzler Tax Service, Shelter Insurance (Jeff Wolfe), and Sheri & Mark Sullentrup; silver sponsors were Erica Mitchell & Nicole Mapstone, Osage Ambulances, Symbols of Success, and Linn Thriftway; and bronze sponsors were Bonnie Elrod, Countryside Veterinary Clinic, LLC, Linn Family Care Clinic, MFA, Shelter Insurance (Tonya Jacquin), and Vicky Nelson.

Osage Ambulance District provided standby services during the event, and LFPD monitored traffic on Rt. U to ensure participant safety.