Mandy Reed is the founder of Dear Dinah Ministries, located in Dayton, Ohio. Dear Dinah creates opportunities for survivors of human trafficking to connect and heal in community, as well for as anti-trafficking advocates to learn, network, and engage in the cause. Learn more at www.deardinah.org.
Dear Dinah is hosting a free community event at Apex Community Church in Dayton on January 15th, 2022 from 4-8pm. This event, called “Come Together,” will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about human trafficking and the local organizations engaged in the fight against it. There will also be live music, free food, and a keynote address from Ashleigh Chapman, founder of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration, and Justice. Learn more by checking out the Facebook event page HERE
As always, more opportunities for engagement are detailed at the end of this blog. We believe that as you read along, you will be inspired to take some kind of next step in the cause.
40.3 million. If you’re familiar with human trafficking, this might be a number you’ve heard before. If you’re not familiar with human trafficking, a quick Google search will reveal that 40.3 million is the approximate number of individuals currently enslaved in the world, according to the International Labor Organization. If 40.3 million is a difficult number to comprehend, think of it this way: it is approximately one in every 200 people on the planet. There are more people enslaved today than at any other point in human history.
What Is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is the sale of men, women, and children for forced labor, sexual exploitation, and organs. This crime, though it may thrive in darkness and lurk behind closed doors, is actually happening in plain sight - right in front of our eyes. The real question is not if it is happening around us, but can we recognize it when we see it? How do we adjust the lens through which we see people, so that we can identify potential victims in need of help? We first need to understand how human trafficking happens. Recognizing a potential trafficking victim is often more about knowing someone’s story than it is about recognizing certain physical signs. Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities and use a grooming process to build deeply dependent relationships with their victims. These vulnerabilities can include things such as childhood sexual abuse, an unstable living/family situation, substance abuse issues, involvement in the juvenile justice or foster care system, and economic disadvantage, to name a few.
Traffickers take their time with this grooming process, and why wouldn’t they? Globally, human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion annually. To put this number in perspective, this is more than the profits of Apple, Verizon, Disney, Facebook, Walmart, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks, combined. And while it is easy to think that human trafficking is only happening in other countries, in major cities, or at sporting events, the reality is that it is happening across the globe. There are very few communities untouched by this devastation. In 2019, Ohio ranked 5th for reported human trafficking cases in the United States according the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is run by the Polaris Project. There are a few different ways to interpret this data, which we won’t get into now, but suffice it to say that human trafficking is not a ‘far away’ issue.
When I first let the number 40.3 million rest for a moment on my heart, it became more than just a number. It became 40.3 million people, 40.3 million hearts beating, and 40.3 million souls in need of rescue. I began to feel as if I were drowning. The number was just far too big. Reaching them all felt like an impossible mission, but I knew I couldn’t sit silently while these victims silently screamed for help. I remember asking the Lord to guide and lead me to those most vulnerable, those wearing invisible chains, and those fighting for their own freedom. And something amazing happened. You see, something amazing always happens when you ask the Lord to help you serve and love on His children: He lets you.
The first thing God did was allow me to see through the numbers and step into the community of anti-trafficking advocates. I began building relationships with others who were committed to this fight. I began learning from them and gleaning from their expertise. Through their wisdom, I was able to see that a “hot spot” for human trafficking was not necessarily a physical location, rather it could be a mental or emotional state of mind. I started to see that trafficking did not equate to a white van pulling into an empty parking lot to kidnap unsuspecting shoppers; rather, it was more than likely happening through online social media platforms where a smooth talking “peer” develops a relationship with an insecure child. I began to realize that human trafficking was not driven by men, but by men and women, strip clubs, and pornography. I was suddenly able to see what it looked like with my own eyes. It was no longer happening in darkness, I was able to see it all around me.
God also allowed me to meet and develop relationships with survivors of sex trafficking, some of the strongest women I have ever met. Stories I had once only read in print were now being shared via conversations taking place over a meal, standing in someone’s kitchen, or in my car. I became friends with previously faceless, nameless women whom I had spent hours praying for.
One such woman was a survivor I’ll call “Mel.” We were driving through my own neighborhood when she told me that she had been there before. Only she hadn’t been there visiting friends or family, she was there by force. She was trafficked in houses right down the street from me, in my very own subdivision near Dayton, Ohio where I take walks with my boys in the evenings. My safe and friendly subdivision, where I wave to familiar neighbors as they pass by me in their cars. The same place I am building fond memories with my family is the very place where some of her worst nightmares occurred. So you see, trafficking is not just happening “over there.” We pass by victims while shopping and playing in the park. They are sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room and at the bus stop. They are all around us and they need us to see them.
The survivors I was meeting were raising children, had career goals, were enrolled in college classes, and were pursuing other lifelong dreams. They were rising from the ashes of a life they thought they would never escape. I met women who once longed to be rescued, now colliding with their Rescuer. These are the kind of women I eventually met at Safe Harbor - a place of healing and restoration. I saw women becoming empowered right before my eyes. They shared their stories through tears, but with strength. I walked the halls, prayed in their prayer tower, looked at the notes they left for each other on message boards and I saw more than a home, I saw a family. I saw a group of women connected through tragedy yet committed to embracing and fighting for their newfound freedom. I remember asking one woman in particular, who has overcome a great deal of trauma, what it was that finally brought her from her old life to a place of really living. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Jesus,” with the most confident and thankful voice. Her Rescuer was Jesus.
Jesus had His own number that He used to describe those who were lost and in need of a rescuer. His number was one. He compared Himself to a shepherd and His hurting children to sheep, saying that if He had 100 sheep and one went missing, He would leave the 99 to go after the one. In other words, it’s not really about the number at all, it’s about each person, each beating heart, each soul. It doesn’t matter how many are safe, He goes after the one needing rescued. The truth is that He is still the Good Shepherd, going after His lost sheep, and He is still the Great Rescuer, granting freedom to those in chains. His mission and His heart saturate the pages of Scripture as we see Him pursuing those most vulnerable and fighting for those who are oppressed. And He has beautifully called and equipped us to partner with Him in that mission. We must remember that we are not the rescuer, He is. But He has given us eyes to see those who are hurting, hearts capable of loving those most vulnerable, and hands able to serve those in greatest need.
This is what I believe the fight to end human trafficking looks like. It may feel uncomfortable at times, but unless we’re willing to become uncomfortable for these individuals, their cries will remain unheard, and the numbers will continue to rise. We must advocate and raise awareness, committing ourselves to loving and protecting those most vulnerable in our community. We must fight for the 40.3 million, believing we can partner with God to bring freedom, one by one.
We know that human trafficking can be a daunting issue to grapple with. It is difficult to know where to begin in educating yourself; it doesn’t help that human trafficking trends are constantly evolving, and not all data is trustworthy.
We at Safe Harbor highly recommend two exceptional training and equipping organizations in central Ohio: She Has a Name, located in Columbus, and Abolition Ohio, in the Dayton area. Both offer multiple excellent training opportunities, help connect interested volunteers with local boots-on-the-ground organizations, and at your request will send a trained individual to teach your group or org about human trafficking. There are many other noteworthy organizations in Ohio and beyond doing phenomenal work in the prevention, demand reduction, outreach, and aftercare niches. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about any of these specific arms of the greater anti-trafficking effort. We would be thrilled to connect you with an organization that is already working in an area for which you are burdened. After all, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
If you would like to give financially towards professional aftercare services that help survivors of sex trafficking, consider Safe Harbor this season. Donate securely at https://give.idonate.com/safe-harbor-house/2021-christmas. Or, please consider supporting our respected new friends at Dear Dinah! Any donation toward the cause is a win for us all. Learn more and donate at https://www.deardinah.org/make-a-donation.