Rescue Innocence 5K helps fight against human trafficking

Posted 6/7/23

LINN   — Saturday marked the seventh time supporters of the fight against human trafficking gathered at the Linn City Park for a 5K Run/Walk to benefit Rescue Innocence.

A total of 58 …

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Rescue Innocence 5K helps fight against human trafficking


LINN  — Saturday marked the seventh time supporters of the fight against human trafficking gathered at the Linn City Park for a 5K Run/Walk to benefit Rescue Innocence.

A total of 58 participants walked or ran (or both) the 5K course that took them to Maguire Park and back.

Among the walkers was Rescue Innocence founder Brent Messimer, who stressed the importance of the mission in a brief address after the race. However, he noted that it’s also critical to support those who survive human trafficking.

During his initial effort in 2012, Messimer traveled to South Africa during World Cup soccer. He was doing outreach to the girls on the streets in front of a residence in a neighborhood.

“We had coffee, cookies, hot chocolate, and we went every Saturday night,” he said. “By the end of the World Cup games — and this isn’t something that people celebrate when they look back because they’re celebrating, you know, the winners of soccer — but we’d rescued 14 girls.”

Messimer was partnering with the Salvation Army, which had a foster system. Once the girls aged out at 18, they were turned away and couldn’t stay there anymore.

“One of the girls we rescued was actually with them through her childhood,” said Messimer. “They had no idea when they let her go that they were turning her over to the pimps and traffickers. That was an eye-opener for them as they were doing the outreach.”

Messimer told the group that he felt the need to develop a support system for survivors. “Something God laid on my heart last year is that for trafficking victims and survivors, there is a community when they’re in that system — when they are trapped,” he said. “But once they come out, there’s no community. They’re on their own. I wanted to explore having a community for survivors of human trafficking. I started putting feelers out there with some of the ladies we work with and another anti-trafficking organization and churches to see if we could have a regular monthly meeting.”

Messimer wanted to have a meal. “You can’t get people to come to anything unless you’re feeding them,” he quipped. “So, we have a meal, and we just have a devotional specifically for survivors, and we provide resources. As we meet them where they’re at, we forget where they want to be. We help connect them with other survivors who have gotten there, or just working with them in that process and creating a community.”

The Survivors Life Group has met for a year at a church in Columbia, and Messimer said it’s going well. “It’s been absolutely wonderful,” he added. “The stories and the things shared through this group, I’m not going to share with you now with the kids here. But I’m telling you, we do have to be vigilant. Most of our members were between 3 and 7 when this happened to them. Sometimes it’s family. This is a real thing, and you guys are helping real people who have gone through the worst of the worst. One of our members has been working and is confident now. She leans on our group and ran into her trafficker not too long ago. She was able to look him in the eye and say, ‘You know what? I’m free.’ It was just absolutely amazing. We lost a member. Her guy took her life. So that happens, but this group is absolutely incredible.”

Messimer and his father have been working on a house for the last year as time and funding allow. This house will become a home for survivors, but they need help.

Messimer noted the house has been rewired, and the next step is to hang the drywall. That project will take place on June 17, and anyone interested in volunteering can email

Once complete, the home will serve trafficking victims who transition through a program and receive a voucher. “It’s rent-free, and it’s going to be beautiful,” said Messimer.

In addition to personal items, hygiene products, and the like, Rescue Innocence provides access to mental health professionals who help victims with the healing process.

The group also provides outreach to vulnerable populations, including the homeless, offenders, and youth, by providing basic needs, life coaching, counseling, educating youth at schools, camps, and clubs, and teaching adults to recognize signs of human trafficking.

He also provides a platform for women in Uganda to support themselves by selling handmade jewelry and purses. “It’s made by former victims, and it gives them employment,” Messimer said. “They don’t have to beg. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to. I buy from them directly, sell it, send them money, and buy more.”

He has maintained a good relationship with the ladies of Uganda for years and said they are happy to be supporting themselves with this venture.

Messimer noted that part of his goal with Rescue Innocence is to provide insight to those who don’t recognize the dangers around them.

“When I go to schools, I always ask the kids, ‘Is your mom overbearing or protective?’ And they’re like, ‘yes,’” said Messimer. “Well, does your mom want to see what apps you have and who you’re talking to? ‘Yes.’ My mom would always go with me to my friend’s house the first few times to meet their parents and see what they were like. Are your parents that bad? No, they’re not that bad. And I tell them if your parents are always looking at what you’re doing, always on your back, you better thank them when you get home because they love you. They are your number-one protectors, and it changes the way our kids do their normal things when they’re aware of the danger and making safer decisions. They’re actually asking the question, ‘Who is this person? Is this person real?’ I don’t want people to walk away thinking they have to avoid every human being because everybody has bad intentions.

“That’s just not true,” he continued. “The majority of people are good, loving, and kind. But we have to be aware that not everybody is like that. So, one of the cool things that happened with this run is that it connected me with different people.”

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 and in 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.

Sponsoring the event were gold sponsors Community Christian Church, American Realty & Dev., LLC, Brandt Heating & Cooling, Casper’s Conoco, Classic Buildings, Curt Kliethermes Construction, Diane & Dennis Hopke, DJ’s Repair Service LLC, Edward Jones, Hometown Lumber, L & M Rentals/Deeken Farms, Legends Bank, Linn Fire Protection District, Linn Lions Club, Linn Shoe Store, Mid America Bank, Mid State Land Surveying LLC, Morton Chapel, Muenks Insurance, Osage County Concrete, Osage Ambulances, Rudroff Bus Co., Salon Dash, Gloria Scherf, Schnitzler Tax Service, Sheri Sullentrup, and Moonlight Dent; silver sponsors 4J’s Tire, 4J’s Towing, Symbols of Success, and Linn Thriftway; and bronze sponsors Elliott Chiropractic, Family Care Clinic (JCMG), Jim Butler, MFA, Owen’s Towing of Belle, Shelter Insurance-Jeff Wolfe, Shelter Insurance-Tonya Jacquin, and BJ’s Restaurant.