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My Real World Problem: Sex Trafficking in my neighborhood and 4 steps you can take in yours

April 22, 2013

We are all an amalgamation of our hobbies, passions, roles and responsibilities. Sometimes we are anonymously attending to mundane tasks, feeling unseen, unnoticed (dying hair with henna.) On other, more invigorating days we are, as my youngest calls me, a “Grown-up Photographer Spy.”

Grown-up Photographer Spy.

This from the adventures of last week when I found myself responding to a vague somewhat ominous phone call, informing my family at dinner that I was, uh, going out, and would be back, um, later. Hours later my husband would receive the text: going shopping, tell you more tonight. I was buying Walmart out of pajamas and flip flops.

The next morning we participated in a local law enforcement operation thought to involve human trafficking.

In the strip malls I frequent!

But where do you put a group of women whose “home” has been seized, whose documents are questionable, and who may or may not want our help? Of the few shelters in our state designed for women over 18 coming out of the sex industry, none could receive an emergency placement. Several others are almost open for minor girls. Domestic Violence shelters require the women to indicate fear of physical harm from their living situation. Would “our victims” indicate fear? Would they pass the residential facilities’ entry processes?

Is any victim of sex trafficking even coherent in the first 48 hours of being rescued?

Here are some thoughts on what we determined is lacking in our community and some suggestions for you in yours:

1. There need to be “safe homes” of community (church) members who are trained, ready, and able to receive emergency short term placements for victims. Even if our victims had been minors and taken into State custody, are any foster placements trained to handle sex trafficked kids? In our case, these women were over 18 and needed an emergency, safe and secure home to stay in the first few days of PTSD while it was determined what exactly they even wanted. Does your community have such homes?

2. Asian Massage businesses are not all fronts for brothels. However, if you would like to learn more about their methodology, please read this article on Polaris Project’s website. I have since learned that our taxes cover police investigation into civil disturbances and citizen concerns. I wonder how many citizens reported the massage businesses before police began investigating further. If you notice suspect behavior in your city, this is a first step. If you wonder about a business, sit outside in your car at various times of day and note if the customers are primarily men. There is your answer.

3. Pray over these places! A few nights ago I sat in a different car with a different group of women near an “Oriental Massage” next to a truck stop. We prayed for the women working there, for the trucker-customers, and for the Christian truckers’ witness and light to be stronger than the darkness. Visit Truckers Against Trafficking to learn more. I learned that our nearest truck stop has been trained to recognize sex trafficking on their property!

4. If you are interested in doing something in your community, please find out what is happening first, before you create something new. We must collaborate with one another- churches, law enforcement, service providers, educators- if we wish to see the end of human trafficking. Perhaps you will identify a gap and knowledgeably step in to address it. Start with your statewide victim assistance organization or contact Polaris Project or your local FBI office to find out what exists near you.

Our team provided emergency comfort bags to the two women recovered from the sting. We put them in a hotel as our only emergency option and went to work to find long term placements. The next day we returned with meal cards and hoped to learn more of their story and needs, but they had already left the hotel and never returned. With great sadness I wonder where all the other unaccounted women are, I wonder the story of “our two,” and I wonder if they had been put in a safe home with a caring couple if they would have stayed.

We are learning. Without warning, but following much prayer, we were launched from awareness to action. How humbling!

Mom, is your spy thingy over?  Ella asks. (Dare I tell her I sense it has just begun?)

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