In 2014, the Topeka Rescue Mission was referred to assist a total of four victims of human trafficking, says its executive director, Barry Feaker.
But that total has since risen steadily to the point where the mission last year received 200 such referrals, he said Wednesday.
About a quarter of those referred last year accepted help, while most of the rest apparently went back to their former lives, Feaker said.
He spoke during a roundtable discussion at Topeka police headquarters involving representatives of public safety, corrections and human services agencies taking part in the privately funded Freedom Now USA initiative.
The rescue mission launched Freedom Now last year in an effort to eradicate human trafficking in this community.
Human trafficking involves involuntary servitude through labor or sex brought about by force, fraud or coercion.
"It could affect anyone in this community, and that's why it takes the whole community to eradicate it," Sheriff Herman Jones said at Wednesday's event. "It is a war."
Feaker stressed the importance of helping people to become educated about human trafficking and to "get talking" about it.
He said adults and youths will be able to take part in free programs Freedom Now USA will offer beginning next month in the conference room at Topeka police headquarters at 320 S. Kansas Ave.
"Protecting Your Children," "Human Trafficking General Awareness" and "Adolescence & Social Media" are among the topics of the 12 available presentations.
The public will be able to register to attend beginning March 15 on the websites of Freedom Now USA and the Topeka Police Department, said Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran.
Michelle McCormick, director of the YWCA's Center for Safety and Empowerment, said Wednesday that organization last year identified 92 victims of trafficking in this community.
She said about 35 percent of those victims had been trafficked sexually by a husband or boyfriend.
Two common themes Wednesday were that the entire community needs to get involved in fighting human trafficking, and that victims are damaged people who tend to have no choice but to sell themselves.
"We have to have systems in place that are better than what the exploiters have given them," Feaker said.
Topeka police Lt. Jennifer Cross said women often feel reluctant to acknowledge to law enforcement that they are victims of sex trafficking, in part because they have been selling sex, which is illegal.
Many also fear what their traffickers will do if they talk to police, which is a legitimate concern, Cross said.
She said she considered it important to understand "the totality of who these people are."
Cross said she had personally managed to avoid that type of life because of the familial support system she has in place.
But human trafficking victims don't have that, Cross said.
"As a community, if we can provide some semblance of that, we can decrease our crime and drug problems and make our community a better place," she said.