An Abolitionist's Journey to Fight Human Trafficking
My work to end human trafficking began 6 years ago in a hotel lobby in Denver. I was a front desk agent at the time, just working my way through college. I had heard of human trafficking a short time before this, and had just begun to build up a passion for education and awareness on this injustice.
One night at work, a woman in her early twenties asked if one of the front desk agents could give her a ride in our hotel’s shuttle SUV to the gas station. I quickly said yes, as I loved getting out of the front desk even for a few minutes. I walked with her and her boyfriend to the car and didn’t think anything of her until she opened the door and I saw what she was wearing. I didn’t want to make any assumptions or judgements, so I just started talking to them and asking my typical questions (where are you from, what brought you to Denver, etc.). This woman and her boyfriend were very blunt with me, and they told me that they work in the entertainment industry and live in Las Vegas. They told me that they were going to be working that evening, so they needed to get some supplies at the gas station. That is when it occurred to me that the woman in the backseat of my car was working in the sex industry and that it is possible that she was being trafficked.
I didn’t know what else to do or say other than be as loving as I could and invite them to church with me. They didn’t end up coming to church, however that night forever weighted heavily on my heart and would ultimately catalyze the urgency in my heart to do something. I started volunteering at a safe house in Denver that rehabilitates women coming out of sex trafficking. The stories I heard from these women completely opened my eyes to what is happening in my own backyard. There was one girl I met at this safe house who was just 19 when she was rescued out of sex trafficking. She met her pimp through her high school which was only 30 minutes away from my high school. She grew up in a middle class family just like I did. A lot of people think this only happens in certain parts of the world, but human trafficking happens in every community, every race, and every socioeconomic status.
As I sat down to talk to this 19 year old girl, I realized that she was no different than me. She had hopes and dreams about her future. The most vulnerable population in the United States to sex trafficking are runaway youth and children in the foster system. When a young girl runs away from her home, statistically the police have only 48 hours to find her before she is recruited. The most common method traffickers use to lure in their victims is false job advertisement, however in the U.S. it is extremely common for a pimp to use the “boyfriending” method. There are a lot of young girls that fall victim to this injustice simply because of the factors that make them vulnerable; which can include economic dysfunction, low self-esteem, childhood sexual abuse, or a lack of a positive support system in their lives.
Further along in my journey to fight sex trafficking in our world, I started volunteering at a local non-profit in Denver called Beloved. I didn’t realize this, but sex trafficking often happens inside of strip clubs. Beloved is an outreach ministry that is dedicated to loving and serving prostituted women. They go inside of strip clubs and out on the streets weekly with the intention of loving these women, building friendships with them and just get to know them with no agenda or judgement. Beloved assembles gift bags each week to give to these women, which can include anything from candy and snacks to makeup and hygiene products. For most of these women, these gifts and conversations are the first they have received without someone demanding something in return from them. Over the past few years, Beloved has been asked to throw a baby shower for one of the dancers, get coffee with dancers, as well as we have been invited to a wedding and a family Christmas party of one of the club owners. The workers and dancers of these clubs have told us they see us as family and enjoy our presence every week.
In January of 2016, I was accepted to do an internship with a global anti-human trafficking organization called A21. I interned in their U.S. aftercare office in Charlotte, North Carolina for four months, and in return for my service this opportunity would increase my raging passion and love for justice and anti-trafficking work. One of the most shocking and life changing experiences during this season was our team rescuing a male victim of labor trafficking in the U.S. I couldn’t believe this was still happening in my country, but I also couldn’t believe that I got to be a part of his new journey toward freedom. The more I got to know this man and heard his story, the statistics and facts became more real to me.
Human trafficking preys and chooses the most vulnerable people in our society, especially people with a history of childhood abuse and neglect. When this internship ended, I started working at a residential treatment center for children who were victims of abuse and neglect. I chose this line of work because I knew that these children I would be working with are the most at-risk of trafficking and exploitation.
The issue of trafficking and exploitation is very real and is very scary, and it is happening in our cities and to children everyday. I think the most frustrating and challenging side to this issue is the fact that there is such a high demand for humans to be bought and sold. We live in a world where the abuse of power, the obsession with adult entertainment, the production of child pornography, and the demand for slaves used for adult encounters is increasing and thriving. The issue is that for a lot of us, we have disguised the problem and made excuses for it. I have met a lot of people who are so blinded to the realities of evil right in front of them, in order to just get through their day without facing the truth.
The scope and scale of the problem can seem so large and complex and at times overwhelming. Human trafficking is the fastest growing and the second largest organized crime in the world. It often goes hand in hand with issues of poverty, corruption, homelessness, disease, domestic abuse, gang activity, rape, etc. It generates billions of U.S. dollars per year and still remains poorly understood for many. We have quite the challenge before us, however I believe that the road to the solution is to shine a spotlight on it. If were all made aware and were educated on it, we would be more likely to use the right tool kit to come up with solutions. This last October I hosted A21’s annual Walk For Freedom in Denver. This is their major awareness and fundraising event, and happens in cities all over the world. The Denver Walk alone raised over $4K; which went directly toward the prevention, rescue and restoration of trafficked individuals. Awareness events such as this are such a tangible way for everyone to get involved in the fight, as well as tell people about the issue and how they can do something. We passed out flyers which had statistics and the human trafficking hotline number on it.
My experience with fighting this global injustice has been challenging to say the least, however these challenges cannot compare to the reward that comes along with that. I’ve heard it be said that in this field, you cannot look at the facts and just see numbers. Every single human enslaved in human trafficking has a name and a face; they are all human beings with dreams and families and favorite colors. The thing that has made all of this work worth it to me is when I meet a survivor face to face and can then put a name to a statistic. She is the 1% of victims that get rescued in human trafficking; but more than that she is a beautiful survivor who has been set free. Every Thursday night when I walk into a strip club with Beloved and feel surrounded by a world of abuse, exploitation and brokenness, the one girl whose face lights up when we get there and who is completely surprised that someone would give her a gift- that is my favorite thing about this work. The children that I get to work with on a daily basis who have been through so much trauma but are now receiving the love and care that most human trafficking victims never received- that is what makes this work worth it to me. The numbers associated with modern day slavery can be both alarming and numbing, but when you can put a name and a face to it; it changes everything.
The story was contributed by a courageous, and selfless woman, Alex, to whom we are so grateful for.