At its essence, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, nationality, or socio-economic class. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.
The numbers are alarming. Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry worldwide. It is the second largest criminal industry in the world. And an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.
And yet, survivors are finding hope right here in the Midlands. Lighthouse for Life is a nonprofit organization that is survivor-informed in its approach to educate the community and empower survivors to eradicate human trafficking. Survivor-informed means that survivors are telling program leaders how they were groomed for the industry, how they were imprisoned by trafficking, how they escaped, and what they need now to move forward.
Educating the community involves partnering with medical professionals and first responders, those most likely to come in contact with victims. It involved partners at all levels of the community - government officials, law enforcement officers, mental health advocates, churches, schools, community service agencies, and lots of volunteers.
While donations of all sorts are always welcome, monetary donations provide the greatest value. From clothing to bedding to toiletry items to food, being able to ‘choose’ is critical for survivors. While being trafficked, all their choices were made for them. Being able to make their own decisions is empowering and an important step in the recovery process. Please consider making a financial donation to LighthouseForLife.org.
[LEFT COLUMN QUOTE] Monetary donations provide the greatest value. From clothing to bedding to toiletry items to food, being able to ‘choose’ is critical for survivors.
CARE COORDINATOR ASSISTANCE FOR SURVIVORS
This includes finding a safe area with easy access to transportation, food options, employment, and support services. It also included furnishing the apartment with essentials and setting up utility services.
2. CLOTHING & FOOD
Appropriate clothing is a basic need, and how to secure that apparel is an important first step for many survivors. Securing food on their own is also a routine task to master, and many survivors do so with the help of WIC.
In some cases, a bus pass is all that is necessary. However, sometimes a car is necessary to meet the demands of employment, school, or medical services.
4. LEGAL SERVICES
Traffickers may have sought to become the legal guardians of their victims. Severing this relationship is often a top priority. Attorneys can also help to vacate criminal charges (such as for prostitution or the use/selling of drugs) that might impact the survivor’s ability to obtain employment or housing.
5. EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT
Most survivors have missed the opportunity to manage their money, make purchases, and pay their own bills. Survivors often lack the skills to be employed at the most basic jobs. Plus, they require training on how to look for a job, as well as how to dress for and participate in an interview.
6. TATTOO REMOVAL
It is not uncommon for traffickers to mark their victims as property through the use of branding and tattoos. Covering the branding mark and/or removing the tattoos is an important step in order for a survivor to reclaim his/her independence.
An opportunity to move forward is what Lighthouse for Life provides through its Survivor Support Program. “Choice” becomes the keyword as Care Coordinators assist survivors in their attempts to navigate the world towards true independence and freedom. First comes an initial assessment, and then typical services are highlighted above.
SERVICES FOR EVERYONE
Every survivor at Lighthouse for Life is offered one-on-one counselling with a trained, trauma-informed counselor. This means providing a safe environment with a counselor committed to trustworthiness and transparency. Counselors are trained to recognize and encourage survivors’ voices, choices and strengths.
Studies show that it is extremely helpful for people who share common experiences or face similar challenges to come together as equals to give and receive help based on the knowledge that comes through shared experiences. Lighthouse for Life offers a variety of support groups in various locations throughout the community.
For many survivors, Lighthouse for Life becomes their family. And just as with family, the encouragement and support is ongoing. For example, all survivors received a Thanksgiving basket filled with everything necessary to prepare a traditional thanksgiving meal.
TIPS FOR RECOGNIZING
signs of sex trafficking
A minor in a relationship with an older ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’
Online relationship with someone they don’t know
Running away from home multiple times/homelessness
Involvement with the juvenile justice system
Dominating/Controlling companion who answers for the individual or won’t leave
Use of street lingo such as ‘the game’ or ‘the life’
Exhibits paranoia, fear, anxiety, depression, submission, and/or nervousness
Discrepancies in behavior and the age they claim to be
Change of behavior at school or work (truancy, falling asleep, diminished performance)
Increased isolation from family and friends
Possession of new items such as clothing, jewelry, cell phone
Lack of ID or other personal documents
Inadequately dressed for the weather
Inappropriately or provocatively dressed
Hotel keys, multiple cell phones, large sums of cash
Carrying personal items around in a paper bag or cardboard box instead of using luggage
If your group would like to welcome a speaker so that you can learn more about the signs of sex trafficking and how to help survivors, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Pagán knows all about human trafficking. She’s been a victim, a survivor, a thriver, and now, an advocate for others.
If you think these things could never happen in your community, Heather is proof otherwise. She grew up in Lexington. Her parents were married. She was one of three children. Her father was a business owner. From outward appearances, her life was normal. But as with most families, there was a level of dysfunction within the home. Between the ages of five and eight, she was exposed to a variety of situations that were not age-appropriate. She was labeled in school as remedial and placed on medication to control her behavior. At the age of ten, more trouble crept in as she skipped school, regularly ran away from home, drank alcohol, and smoked marijuana. The dysfunction in her home allowed these behaviors to escalate without consequence.
When Heather was 14, her knight in shining armor arrived. Promising her love and acceptance combined with security on a variety of levels, this knight methodically drew Heather into a world of horror. What followed was 18 years filled with one trauma after another. On the most basic level, Heather became a commodity – one that was regularly bought and sold. To ensure her compliance, she was plied with alcohol and drugs. The abuse she endured on a regular basis is unimaginable. This abuse coupled with multiple arrests for prostitution and drugs bound Heather to her traffickers.
A random solicitation in August 2008 had the potential to provide a huge pay-day for Heather’s trafficker. However, the demands planned for Heather drew her immediate concern. Rather than comply, Heather took the bold step of having herself arrested during a simple traffic stop. This decision proved to be life-changing. Two years in prison followed. Various faith-based women came to Heather’s aid. Once released, she made the deliberate decision to return to the world of human trafficking. However, this time would be different. She would enter as an advocate for victims, not a victim herself.
In the 12 years since, Heather has worked with a variety of organizations in the US and abroad to serve the victims of human trafficking. For her current role, she returns home to Lexington. As the Survivor Care Coordinator for Lighthouse for Life, Heather cultivates relationships that allow her to help victims become survivors. Her past traumas help her relate in ways that others cannot. Her present life is a testament to the fact that surviving isn’t easy, but thriving is worth every moment of hard work.