How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking, sex trafficking, and sexual exploitation?
My passion stems from being a victim once myself. When I was 18, I thought I knew it all – enough to keep me from trouble, but didn’t know that trouble would come looking for me. I left home to live on my own. After having been in several negative and abusive relationships, I was all alone. A young lady and I became friends. She was the best, was always there, encouraged me, bought me clothes, took me to get my hair and nails done. We were great friends.
She came to me one evening and asked me if I wanted to go to a house party. This was my first adult party, so I dressed up, put on the make-up, and was so excited. We drove there in my car. I didn’t notice then, that her and I were the only two females at this party. When I walked into the apartment, people were playing cards, drinking, and the music was going. I walked into the living room and this guy spoke to me. We began small talk and he asked me did I want a drink. I told him that I didn’t. He said that I was too young and couldn’t drink. My father was an alcoholic, so I figured if he could do it, I could; so I told the man at the party that I could drink him under the table and started trash talking about my ability to be a “big girl”.
After at least twenty triple-shots later, I told him I wasn’t even a little buzzed and I just had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t know until later that every time that I took a drink, he tossed his behind his back. Now, because I wasn’t a drinker, I didn’t know that alcohol doesn’t affect you immediately, it takes a while. While in the bathroom, the room started spinning, and I passed out.
When I woke up the next morning, there was at least two dozen used condoms on me and around the bathroom. I crawled out into the living room and there was no people, no furniture, and my “friend” was gone – in my car! I walked back to the apartment that her and I shared, throwing up along the way, dizzy, and completely confused. I couldn’t remember a single person at the party. When I got home, she had a pile of new clothes on the bed, she had been to the mall, and left me alone at the party.
Girls have an unwritten rule: when we go somewhere together, we leave together. She violated this cardinal rule. When I asked her about this, she told me that I wanted to be left at the party. I tried to tell her what happened to me, all I could do was get sick to my stomach – alcohol poison. For three days, she tended to my every need – making me feel like it was just a coincidence.
About two weeks later, she asked me if I wanted to go to another party. I told her, “No way!” She said this one was all girls and we were just going to cook some chicken wings and play cards. A girls night out? I could handle that. I walked in, very suspicious, and there were no men. We were all having a great time until this banging on the door. Two of the largest men I have ever seen in my life came through that door, had us parading up and down the hallway, and asking us crazy questions.
You guessed it – they bought us. My “friend” and these guys went into the backroom and they handed her a wad of money that was as big as my head. Was this really happening? My “friend” who I trusted sold me to two kingpins from Chicago. Not long after this, I was able to run away and escape this hell.
What draws you to support and advocate for people enslaved by traffickers?
People who have been victimized live in fear; fear of the trafficker/abuser, fear of going back home to their families, fear of being ostracized for their pasts, fear of looking themselves in the mirror, and fear of everything and everyone. We work so those people don’t have to be in fear anymore. We have a great team of survivors, counselors, mentors, and other professionals who work tirelessly for former victims, and to prevent people from being a statistic in the future. If we don’t, who will?
What does your work involve?
To clients and their families, we provide basic needs such as clothing, hygiene items, counseling (for individuals, families, and children), individual and peer support groups, court advocacy, benevolence funds for emergency needs, and so much more.
To law enforcement, we provide training, witness assistance for victims, court clothing, provision of limited transportation, family reunification programs, hygiene packages, food vouchers, and referrals for additional professional services.
For the community, we provide training and education to the youth, civic and church organizations, businesses, and interested groups. We also have a variety of other programs and services that we offer as well.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish human trafficking and sexual exploitation?
So many laws are being written and strengthening existing laws, which is really making a huge difference with those involved in trafficking. In one year, five new anti-trafficking laws were introduced and it has made Tennessee one of the strongest states, legislatively. This is because of great partners we have, such as Operation Broken Silence, who led the charge in new legislation.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
There are many ways that you become involved:
Educate yourself about human trafficking.
Use socialized media, follow our Facebook/Twitter pages and repost/retweet missing person reports, stories, stats, and more. Encourage your friends to join/follow organizations that are making a difference.
You can volunteer with our organization in many ways.
You can have a member of our team to come speak at an event you have, and share with them personal testimonies.
We can train your law enforcement agency.
You can buy our books, shirts, music CDs, and other products.
You can financially partner, sponsor a survivor, or give in-kind donations.
What are your plans for the future?
We always have events planned, which are posted on our website. We are growing daily, so our plans are evolving. We plan to eventually open up a restoration center for victims of all ages and have a place for them and for their families to reunify.
Recommended websites/further reading:
A Bridge of Hope is our organization and we can be contacted at the following:
Founders: Daryl & Kimberly Benson
P.O. Box 3960, Cordova, TN, USA 38088-3960
There are so many other great organizations that we are privileged to be partnered with, and that are making great strides and impacts in the field of anti-trafficking, which are noteworthy, such as:
Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking: www.stophumantrafficking.org
Polaris Project: www.polarisproject.org
Fair Trade USA: www.fairtradeusa.org
Rescue One: www.rescue1mission.com