Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
DES MOINES, Iowa – On Oct. 19, a new army will be recruited to combat the frightening abduction of thousands of children in the U.S. each year, some of whom are subject to sexual abuse and even slavery.
The 10th Preventing Abuse Conference will convene at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines to inform, equip and organize people to be part of the solution to a rampant human trafficking problem made only worse in recent years by child pornography, an increasingly sexualized culture and the spread of drug cartels smuggling children across the border.
The numbers staggering: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 1,000,000 children are reported missing in the U.S. each year, and of those, somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 are abducted by nonfamily members.
“At 80,000 per year, that’s over 1,500 children per week getting kidnapped in the U.S.,” explained Tony Nassif, founder and president of the Preventing Abuse Conferences. “And here’s the problem: A lot of the missing children, they get sucked in by pimps within the first 48 hours. Put it together: The FBI says that child porn is the fastest growing form of pornography on the Internet. Where do you think they get the kids?”
Nassif told WND the conference is for anyone, but it’s especially aimed at educating concerned parents, training police officials and, most especially, for mobilizing the church to get into the battle.
“A major aspect of our conference is focusing on the church, because the church is the largest grassroots organization the world has ever known or ever will know,” Nassif told WND. “And grassroots is the key to exposing any crime. No law enforcement agency can match the vast reach of the church, and the church has a moral mandate from God to relieve the oppressed and set the captive free.
“Once you get the church educated about the warning signs of a predator or a trafficking perpetrator,” he continued, “they can make the call that can lead to rescue of a victim.”
In fact, the Preventing Abuse Conferences have already led to rescued children and other success stories.
“One guy, I’ll never forget this story,” Nassif related. “[Conference speaker] Noreen Gosch got done making her presentation, and there’s a guy seen walking around almost in a daze. He had a T-shirt on, a picture of a girl on the shirt, and, come to find out, he walks up to Noreen, and it turns out the little girl is his daughter.
“And he says to Norene, ‘This pimp took my daughter, and we can’t find her because he keeps hiding her. Can you help me?’” Nassif continued. “She says yes, so she puts the call out.
“Three months later she sends me the email he sent her,” Nassif said. “He says, ‘Noreen, I found my daughter. Don’t ever stop talking about human trafficking.’ And she said to me, ‘Tony, do you see the great good your conferences are doing? Our conference brought them together.’”
Nassif also tells the story of a boy whose mother returned from the conference enthusiastic about getting into the battle. The boy was so inspired by his mother’s passion that he told her he wanted to go into the military so he could go on rescue missions. Today, he’s a member of U.S. Special Forces.
“The information at the conference will be positive,” Nassif told WND. “We’re going to identify the problem, focus on the solution, and the information will be used to get more people involved, plugged in to task forces and alliances, aware of the warning signs, the safety signs, working together across the country to actually help rescue children.
“Ultimately, if you’ve got kids or young relatives,” Nassif said, “the child you save may be your own.”
The Preventing Abuse Conferences have garnered the praise and endorsement of police departments, parents, Pastor Jack Hayford, radio personality Michael Reagan, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and conservative icon Pat Boone, among others.
Speakers scheduled for the Iowa conference include drug cartel expert Detective Sergeant Oscar Mejia; a deep cover rescue and former CIA agent; President of Girls Against Porn Tiffany Leeper; Tania Fiolleau, a former trafficker and brothel madam; and – marking the 30th anniversary of the abduction of Johnny Gosch – Johnny’s mother and pioneering advocate for families of kidnap victims, Noreen Gosch.
A well known case in Iowa, Johnny Gosch was abducted from his West Des Moines paper route in 1982 at age 12. The police policy of waiting 72 hours to classify a person as “missing” outraged the Gosch family and later led “The Johnny Gosch Bill,” now passed in several states, which requires immediate police response to reports of missing children. Johnny was also one of the first children to be featured on milk cartons around the country.
Though the case has never been “solved,” Noreen testified in federal court that 15 years after his abduction, Johnny briefly visited home and confirmed that he and other boys had been abducted by a child pornography and pedophilia ring. She claims he left again and is now living in hiding, afraid to be discovered by those who victimized him.
Nassif told WND the nation desperately needs more conferences like this, as the American society has continued to throw away its sexual morals and embraced a culture of lust, two factors he says will only fuel the appetite for pedophilia.
“When you’ve got a government that is pushing to tear down sexual morality – like embracing same-sex marriage and enforcing contraception mandates and encouraging recreational sex – when any government or society or person pushes that,” Nassif said, “they are contributing to the sexualization of the culture, which fuels the demand for human trafficking, child pornography and prostitution.
“I’ll do anything and everything to get this word out,” Nassif concluded. “Too many children’s lives are at stake.”
Nine Preventing Abuse Conferences have been held around the country, including in California and Florida, and people can register to attend the 10th in Iowa at www.preventingabuse.org.