Well, this is a truly tough post, but one I feel compelled to share. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. (I know — deep breath in, deep breath out). This topic might seem like a bit of a departure from our Pause, Assess, Reset theme for the month, but I’m not sure it is. You see, if you truly engage in the techniques of pausing, assessing, and resetting, you might find yourself coming into a deeper awareness and with that comes truth, clarity and consciousness.
We all know from a rational, logical point of view that human trafficking exists and unfortunately Houston is at the center of it. However, there are some things in life that seem too tough to bear, too outrageous to comprehend, too horrifying to process. This is one of them. How can something so extremely cruel, and dark exist? This question cannot be easily answered.
Ironically, even when something appears too dark to bring to awareness, the awareness brings in the light. And with the light, there is always hope. The honest truth can be hard and painful yet with this new sense of awareness, we are inevitably given a choice. What do I do now? Do I act or stand still? The choice is ours and the first step is to fully acknowledge and accept the truth of what is, no matter how dark or evil.
I was having dinner with two of my closest friends in December. Both had just attended a human trafficking presentation at Memorial High School. As they spoke to me about it, I could feel their empathy, their fear. We are all mothers of beautiful girls and we were relating — it’s a very insidious issue. People you think would never fall victim to these traffickers, do. It’s a well-oiled machine.
The Free The Captives candles mentioned in the article below were brought to me by a colleague and I am thrilled to offer these formerly trafficked teens a retail channel for their product. The backstory is that I put them in my store even when some advised against it. There is no place for denial and indifference in regard to this issue. On the contrary, I decided to stand up, offer these teens a retail outlet, and talk more about the issue on my blog. I acted and I choose to use my free will for the common good. I hope you will too.
I leave you with this beautiful quote by Suzy Kassem, “Truth searches for no one. It waits to be found.” At the end of the piece there are ways to learn more and get involved. Here’s to shining the light on the truth of an ugly issue, creating awareness, acting and offering hope to others.
by Alyce Eyster
Truth and courage are not always comfortable but they are never weakness. — Brene Brown
“We challenge people to be bold,” explains Micah Bailey, Director of Operations at Elijah Rising, a faith-based organization that fights human trafficking in Houston through awareness, intervention and aftercare for victims. The local (and global) fight demands courage, as it can be a gritty, dark world of pimps, johns, abuse, intimidation, mind games and captivity for the victims. And it demands awareness and truth as it is creeping right into our backyards — that neighborhood “spa” you pass daily just might be operating as a sexually-oriented business exploiting minors at night. But the conversation is getting louder thanks to a few local organizations.
According to a study conducted by the University of Texas, 313,000 people in our state are victims of human trafficking, with 79,000 being children and young people coerced or deceived into prostitution.¹ The average age of of entry into prostitution is 13.² Houston specifically has the highest number of human trafficking victims in the country¹. Our city has earned the unflattering distinction as a hotbed of human trafficking activity due to its port and airports, proximity to Mexico, large sporting events and its location along the I-10 corridor.
Twenty-sixteen seemed to be the year of the missing teen girl, as frequent notifications populated Facebook feeds from families in Katy, Fort Bend County even leafy West University, desperate to find their daughters. Late last year advocacy group Houston Texas CAN hosted a presentation at Memorial High School featuring four people who’ve all been touched in some way by human trafficking.
John Clark, parent of a trafficked survivor, spoke about his efforts to strengthen laws to protect young girls and punish pimps. (Sign his petition here.) With her commanding presence and frank commentary, Cat French, founder of Elijah Rising, told of her organization’s intervention work. And attendees heard from a representative of Ronin Consultants, a security organization with a non-profit division called Mountain Movers that helps find missing and trafficked children.
The breadth and depth of sex trafficking in our community is alarming – brothels masquerading as spas, cantinas where customers can buy a beer and a girl and teen girls recruited via a step-by-step strategy of a business plan in which the each girl nets the pimp $150,000-$500,000 per year² by being sold repeatedly (10-30 times per day) on websites like backpage.com.
Open your eyes to what is going on in our city. Part of Elijah Rising’s outreach includes van tours that educate and help in identifying and reporting massage parlor brothels. From the safety of a van with dark tinted windows, Jacqueline Lebow Smooke observed high-probability trafficking areas and was inspired to help the organization. She’s now chairing a gala this fall to raise money for Elijah Rising’s safe house Kendleton Farms. (And — sidenote — as a prelude to the gala, there’s a shopping party at Elaine Turner City Centre on February 6, 6-8 pm, where 15% of proceeds benefit Elijah Rising.)
Fortunately our city offers opportunities to become more educated on the subject. You can view the issue up close at The Museum of Modern-Day Slavery, where exhibits include recreations of cantinas and massage parlors using authentic artifacts from shuttered brothels so visitors get a feel for the true conditions in which those trafficked find themselves living. Exhibits also celebrate the heroic efforts of early trafficking abolitionists like Katherine Bushnell, Donaldina Cameron and Josephine Butler. And with the spotlight on our city thanks to the Super Bowl, an event notorious for human trafficking, Elijah Rising will be hosting a four day Justice Rally leading up to the sporting event. They’ll be offering education and training that folks can take back to their cities and replicate, as well as boots on the ground for interventions.
Another Houston anti-trafficking organization Free the Captives provides survivor care for teen victims of trafficking. These young women get job training by making and selling candles which can be purchased at Elaine Turner’s City Centre boutique. This amazing organization also offers education and awareness through its annual conference and other events.
If there is anything to drive home about human trafficking, it is that not all trafficking victims are shipped in from foreign countries, they are American children, tweens and teens, and the the vast majority of prostitutes are trafficked through a pimp. No one is immune — not big city or small town or fancy suburbs, not public school or private school, not high end or low — because kids are being lured via social media. It could be happening under your roof, right now. Your children are at risk.
Scared into action? I hope so. Now here’s what you can do about human trafficking:
- If you see it or suspect it, report it.
National Human Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888
- Talk to your kids about social media safety and the dangers of human trafficking.
- Sign John Clark’s petition to strengthen anti-human trafficking laws.
- Schedule a van tour, visit the museum, attend a conference or rally, research, read and watch the documentaries below then talk about it to create awareness.
- Donate your money or time to organizations like Free the Captives and Elijah Rising.
As you take a deep dive into human trafficking, steel yourself. These news reports, interviews and documentaries are informative, raw and at times, tough to watch:
- Local law enforcement shows Houston TV personality Deborah Duncan how easy it is to order a girl off the Internet, and she speaks to a survivor.
- 104.1 KRBE personalities Roula & Ryan interview Sam Hernandez of Elijah Rising Part I and Part II.
- Selling the Girl Next Door
CNN reporter Amber Lyon follows the story of a 12 year old trafficking victim. This one is heart-breaking.
- Nefarious: Merchant of Souls
The filmmakers travel the world to places like Moldova and Thailand to document atrocities happening there.
- Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade
This documentary is all about a town in Mexico that has a thriving sex trafficking culture, breeding pimps, selling girls and more.
²The Museum of Modern-Day Slavery, 5818 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77057
Alyce Eyster is blog manager of Elaine’s Musings as well as a marketing communications consultant.
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