How did you become involved in the movement against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?
This is kind of a long story as it was a journey, not so much a revelation, but I’ll keep it short. It started with a song of all things, “Carissa’s Song” by Mandi Perkins. I liked Mandi’s music and saw the proceeds from this song were going to The Carissa Project, a film project by David Sauvage to share the story of Carissa Phelps who is a survivor of sex trafficking. Carissa’s story was so horrific that it truly shocked me, yet it is also a story of triumph, joy, and hope. This all started about four years ago for me.
This led me to trying to educate myself on the issue of, initially, sex trafficking and then human trafficking. I don’t think I will ever forget the nights I stayed up until 2AM listening to interviews of Nikki Junker and Minh Dang on the radio. These two courageous young ladies shared their experiences and to this day, I am nearly overwhelmed with pride for these two ladies whom I have never met but who are such heroes to me. Hearing their experiences, it made me think of how little hope there must have seemed at times in their lives.
The more I searched, the more I educated myself, the more I saw how pervasive the issue of sex and human trafficking is in this world. And that is just not acceptable.
What draws you to support people who are trafficked and sexually exploited?
It is my view of this problem that too often these people find themselves with little to no hope for bettering their situation. I realize that this is my view and doesn’t necessarily reflect everyone’s reality, but it is what motivates me. I remember a time when I had lost hope and it was through the caring of friends and family as well as my faith in God that I found hope again. From my experience, logic and rational thought usually cannot bring hope back to you if you’ve lost it; it takes an external influence to make that happen. I believe that God will use my efforts to help people, I don’t need to understand how that happens, but it is my faith that says that it will happen.
What does your work involve?
I always feel that my efforts are insufficient but I like the quote from Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” I am not able to abolish human trafficking through my actions directly; however, there are a myriad of ways to influence and support the fight against human trafficking. Polaris Project does a lot of work with helping to get legislation enacted in America that helps fight human trafficking in many ways and I’ve helped those efforts by going and talking to my representatives to garner support for legislation. This is surprisingly easy and the legislators with whom I spoke were interested and engaging.
I also work at educating people, sharing the reality of sex and human trafficking. It’s shocking and unfortunate how ignorant most folks are of the extent and impact of human trafficking. I believe that education is the key to dealing with human trafficking. If more people were aware of the horrors of human trafficking and that it happens in their town, then more resources would be put towards the battle, more people would be helped and fewer people would become trapped in it.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish human trafficking and sexual exploitation?
We need more victims’ services (I know that there is a desire to not use the term “victim” with respect to survivors of human trafficking, but this is a social reference that has specific meaning to me) and we need more severe penalties for those who commit human trafficking crimes. In the broad category of “victims’ services”, I include legislation to provide and fund training for first responders, safe houses for survivors, reintegration programs for survivors (this is another broad category that includes mental and physical wellness programs, career training, for example). There are so many ways in which our society has failed the vast majority of survivors of human trafficking – our society owes it to them to help make things better.
I believe that it is also clear that criminals see their gain from human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, far outweighing potential and actual costs. We need to change that equation so that it is no longer profitable for them. There needs to be asset forfeiture similar to that associated with drug crimes. Take these seized assets and put them to work helping the survivors of human trafficking.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
First, educate yourself. There are many wonderful organizations out there who have good information but Polaris Project was where I started and I tend to point people in that direction. Second, just share what you learn with friends and family. Although I have found that talking with folks works best, inundating them with links and news stories can be overwhelming for someone who isn’t already in search of that information. Then find an organization in your area that is fighting the fight against human trafficking – this just takes a Google search of “human trafficking abolition” and your city, state, or other geographic designation. There are also very few places which provide housing and services for survivors. They are always in need of funds; donate what you can, help motivate others to donate.
I believe that the most important thing is to find an activity about which you can be passionate.
Keep the number of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (for those of us in America) handy and share it with others. You can call this number when you suspect that human trafficking (not only sex trafficking) is occurring. That number is: 1-888-3737-888.
What are your plans for the future?
I need to get back involved with the DC Stop Modern Slavery group here in Washington DC. There are a lot of motivated folks doing good work there and it provides me with a way to be more active. I will continue to educate myself and others about sex and human trafficking. I keep finding more and more people out there who are standing up and fighting the good fight.
Recommended websites/further reading:
Polaris Project (they have a fantastic story about their origins)
California Against Slavery (I’ve learned lots of good things from these folks)
The Carissa Project (the story of Carissa Phelps)