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January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Here’s What You Can Do, Pittsburgh

This post is adapted from the original, which appeared on the Imagine Conference blog.

Get your clicking finger ready: It’s time to test that “fake news IQ” you’ve spent the past year developing. Sure, you can spot a click-bait headline a mile away—“Joanna Gaines is Leaving ‘Fixer Upper’ to Become a Scuba Diving Instructor!”—but can you figure out what’s missing from the following real-news headlines? Hint: It has to do with where they happened. Go ahead and Google them; I’ll wait.

Human trafficking larger problem … than many believe

FBI’s raid of massage parlor leads to larger probe into prostitution, possible human trafficking

Eight arrested in … prostitution, human trafficking investigation

Nationwide sex trafficking ring linked to …

… Man sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to traffic a minor for sex

 

Give up? Here are the answers:

Human trafficking larger problem in Western Pa than many believe

FBI’s raid of [Squirrel Hill] massage parlor leads to larger probe into prostitution, possible human trafficking

Eight arrested in Frazier prostitution, human trafficking investigation

Nationwide sex trafficking ring linked to Pittsburgh

Wexford man sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to traffic a minor for sex

 

Shocking, huh? These are from just the past three months.

What and Where is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. According to antislavery.org, it involves transporting, recruiting, or harboring people for the purpose of exploitation (this could be either commercial sex or labor exploitation), through the use of violence, threats, or coercion. Any minor under the age of 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts is a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether he or she is forced or coerced.

It’s a common misconception that slavery was abolished in the 19th century; in fact, more people are enslaved worldwide today than at any other time in human historyas many as 40 million women, children, and men according to some estimates.

And slavery does not happen only overseas, in developing countries. As the headlines above indicate, it hits much closer to home. Victims of human trafficking can be any age, gender, race, or immigration status; they live in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. They live right here, in Western Pennsylvania.

While human trafficking was virtually nonexistent in our region just six years ago, since then, 36 known brothels, or places of human trafficking, have sprung up in the greater Pittsburgh area. Six of these trafficking dens are in the suburbs and surrounding neighborhoods.

Their Response: Not Good Enough

Now that we know human trafficking is happening here, naturally we want to know what is being done to address it.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania has made great strides in just the past three years. The Commonwealth enacted Act 105 in 2014 to define human trafficking and give law enforcement tools needed to go after traffickers. Since 2011, Pennsylvania has gone from an “F” to a “B” grade on its state report card released by Shared Hope International’s Center for Law and Policy, which measures comprehensive response to domestic minor sex trafficking.

Unfortunately, there is still much progress to be made in this fight. Presently, Pennsylvania’s “trafficking in individuals” law does not prohibit a defense based on the willingness of a minor to engage in the commercial sex act. Prostitution laws apply to minors under 18. This means kids who in many cases have already been abused by family members as well as pimps are victims a second time when they are treated like the criminals and arrested on such charges as prostitution, drug possession, loitering, and other prostitution-related offenses. Meanwhile their traffickers are rarely caught, let alone prosecuted and convicted. A Senate bill to address this, known as Safe Harbor in Human Trafficking, was introduced as SB554 and passed to the state judiciary in April 2017.

UPDATE: Since this post was published, I learned about an upcoming PA House and Senate movie screening event designed to encourage the speedy passage of SB554.

Additionally, Pennsylvania has only a five-year statute of limitation from the date of the crime during which a victim may speak out against his or her trafficker and is extremely lenient when it comes to regulating “adult-oriented businesses” like strip clubs, massage parlors, and other adult establishments. A House bill to regulate the latter was pulled in 2015. There has been movement on this recently in the form of House Bill 2029, which introduces stiffer penalties on people who are convicted of trafficking someone into sex slavery and on those who patronize a trafficking victim. 

To put it plainly: Our state government is not yet doing enough to equip law enforcement to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.

But you can do something. Want to get involved? Read on.

Your Response: Start from Where You Are

Knowledge is power, and in the case of human trafficking, it is light. Traffickers work in the shadows—their success depends on your not knowing about or noticing them, not seeing their victims. By far, your knowledge about this subject and the fact that it is happening all around us is the most important weapon you have, as it will shine light on this dark injustice by exposing it for the evil it is.

1. Learn

Educate yourself and learn about indicators of trafficking as well as what to do if you suspect it is happening by exploring the links above, as well as national organizations like Polaris Project and Shared Hope. Local resources for education, prevention, and response include Living in Liberty (an organization that operates safe houses for survivors of trafficking) and Project to End Human Trafficking. Want to better understand this issue from the perspective of a local survivor? This is a great article.

If you suspect human trafficking, never engage directly in the situation. If it’s an emergency, dial 911; otherwise, you can make an anonymous tip to the FBI at 412-432-4122 or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 24 hours a day at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. For more information about services provided by Living in Liberty, call 412-437-9347.

2. GiveA21

As you might imagine, there are many incredible organizations out there that are doing lifesaving work in the fight against human trafficking. If you’ve read up on what trafficking is and feel led to give financially, the list of organizations that participate in Imagine Conference as exhibitors is a great place to start!

Dressember support

3. Do

In honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, why not take the first step and get involved? You don’t have to be a lawyer, doctor, caseworker, counselor, or pastor to make a difference. You don’t have to start your own foundation, nonprofit, or ministry—they already exist right here in the Pittsburgh area, and they need you. So start from where you are.Justice Team logo

Join the Justice Team. A ministry of North Way Christian Community, the Justice Team is dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of the vulnerable and oppressed, including victims of human trafficking, and provides opportunities for both its members and the larger church body to volunteer and engage in ways to serve with local churches and agencies. Meetings are once a month, typically the third Sunday, at 4 p.m. at Repurposed thrift store (7805 McKnight Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15237). Email justice@northway.org for more info.

Living in Liberty Donate your used clothing and household goods. Speaking of Repurposed thrift store, you’ve probably passed it a thousand times, but did you know it directly supports the work and ministry of Living in Liberty? There’s a Repurposed for Kids too! After you’ve donated your stuff, shop! And tell others to donate and shop!

Volunteer with Repurposed and/or Living in Liberty.

Attend an event. Upcoming events in February include the Third Annual Day of Prayer and Awareness for Human Trafficking in Latrobe, Pa., on February 10, and the Asservo Conference on February 24. Email justice@northway.org to join the email list and receive information about events.

Finally, do whatever you can with whatever you have wherever you are to raise awareness and shine more light. A mom friend of mine recently told me this story. She was out with her husband in the suburbs of Pittsburgh when she noticed an ad taped to a pole for a “modeling job” and no company name or location, just a phone number. Because she was informed, she knew it was likely false. When her attempts to tear the ad down failed, she ran into a drug store, purchased an enormous permanent marker, and used it to write all over the ad, warning potential victims. She now carries that marker with her like a weapon, ready for her next opportunity to fight back!

We are all in this together, and together, we can end this.


Subscribe to my email newsletter to receive occasional updates on events and opportunities to get involved in this fight!

Dressember Ethical Fashion Everyday Advocacy Imagine Conference

Imagine Spotlight: Dressember

Are you coming to Imagine Conference? Have you registered yet? The deadline is TODAY.

The Story: It’s Bigger Than a Dress

Dressember is a collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to promote the inherent dignity of all people. Since 2013, Dressember has grown into an international movement to save lives.
In just the past four years, thousands of women have raised more than $3 million to end human trafficking—I participated for the first time two years ago and since then I’ve raised nearly $2,500!—just by wearing dresses.

Started by Blythe Hill in 2009, Dressember began as a quirky style challenge with a clever name that spread like wildfire. In 2013, it took on new meaning, opposing the worldwide trafficking and exploitation of women by aligning with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. In 2015, Dressember added a second grant partner: A21, which exists to abolish modern-day slavery in the 21st century.

When you participate in Dressember, you become an advocate for freedom and dignity as well as a voice for the millions of voiceless women, children, and men around the world who are enslaved. How?

Become an Advocate

Commit to wearing a dress (or tie if you’re a guy!) every day in December and telling people about it. Link arms with fellow advocates to raise money and awareness for the fight against global human trafficking.

Join our team: Dressember Pittsburgh. Our goal is to raise $6,300—the cost of one rescue mission. Simply visit bit.ly/dressember2017, click on Join Team, set up your personal fundraising page, then join Dressember Pittsburgh!

Donate

Not into wearing dresses (seriously you don’t need to own a lot of them—I’m planning to rotate two to three of them all month with different accessories)? Make a donation.

Give to my campaign! My goal this year is $3,000. And don’t forget to follow along on social media during the month of December.

Want to learn more about Dressember? Come to Imagine Conference this Friday and Saturday!

A21 Everyday Advocacy Imagine Conference

Imagine Spotlight: A21

Are you coming to Imagine Conference? Have you registered yet? The deadline is TODAY.

The Story: We Can All Do Something

In 2007, Christine Caine—today an internationally known teacher, evangelist, activist, author, and speaker—was walking through the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece, when she noticed that littering the walls were handmade posters showing the faces of girls and women who had disappeared. She wondered how there could be so many people missing at the same time, until someone told her they were all victims of human trafficking.

Caine was incredulous. “I thought ‘Human trafficking? That doesn’t happen, that’s ridiculous.’ Then I went online and did some research, and I was stunned.” [“Abolishing Sex Slavery by Helping One Girl at a Time”]

Or as she would later put it: “My. World. Was. Rocked. Forever. … Life as I knew it before seeing the missing posters was over.” [“A Dream Come True”]

A year later in 2008, she and her husband, Nick, founded The A21 Campaign, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. A21’s comprehensive approach includes raising awareness, preventing future trafficking, taking legal action, and providing rehabilitation services to survivors.

With a stated mission to abolish slavery everywhere forever, A21 has 12 offices in 11 countries—all focused on aspects of its three-pronged solution: Reach, Rescue, Restore.

 

 

REACH THE VULNERABLE AND DISRUPT THE DEMAND.
RESCUE VICTIMS AND SEEK JUSTICE AGAINST THEIR CAPTORS.
RESTORE SURVIVORS AND EQUIP THEM TO LIVE INDEPENDENTLY.

Reach: A21 prevents slavery from ever happening by engaging people through events like the Walk for Freedom, student presentations, and education programs.

Rescue: A21 works closely with law enforcement on the ground to support raids, identify victims through our resource lines, assist in the prosecution of traffickers, represent survivors in court proceedings, and collaborate with governments and other NGOs to eradicate slavery at every level.

Restore: A21 works face-to-face with every person in their care, providing them with access to housing, medical treatment, counseling, education, employment, and repatriation based on their individual needs.

Take Action: Introducing A-Teams

A21 believes in involving everyday people, called New Abolitionists, to help to abolish slavery everywhere, forever.

“Often, I think, because we think, ‘I can’t do it all,’ we end up being paralyzed. So we do nothing,” says Caine. “But if we understand we can’t do everything but we all must do something, and we all find the one thing that we can do, then we’ll find that together we will all make such a huge difference and we’ll be able to put a stop to this.”

Now there’s a way for all of us to do something. Introducing A-Teams. An extension of A21, A-Teams are made up of abolitionists—ordinary people like you and me:

A-Teams is you. It is us. We are a global community of abolitionists determined to leave our mark on history. From coffee shops to campuses, places of work to places of worship, A-Teams are wherever you are; bringing their time, talent, and influence to create real change. A-Teams are an extension of A21 and the fuel behind the mission–going to unreached places with the message of freedom. We believe that with grit, tenacity, and dedication, we can abolish slavery everywhere, forever.

Sound epic? It is. And you are invited to join us.

Want to learn more about A21 and how you can join an A-Team? Come to Imagine Conference this Friday and Saturday!

 

Ethical Fashion Everyday Advocacy Imagine Conference

Imagine Spotlight: Anugra

Are you coming to Imagine Conference? Have you registered yet? The deadline is Wednesday!

The Story: Purchase and Empower

Anugra creates modern home goods that are environmentally sustainable, fair trade, and that contribute toward creating better opportunities for women in India. Pronounced uh•new•gruh, the name comes from the Hindi word “anugraha,” meaning blessing and grace.

It all started when Daisy, an Indian woman passionate about gender equality, saw a need for women empowerment in oppressive communities throughout her home country. A sewing center developed, providing women from these oppressive environments with a safe space and skill set that would otherwise be unfathomable. Fifteen years and over 3,500 trained women later, they were ready for the next step, wondering ‘How can we advance this to an even greater level of community impact?’

Anugra was born out of a desire to directly employ the top seamstresses and build a social enterprise. One that would pour back into the ministry while elevating sewing skills, literacy, fair wages, as well as creating safe spaces to work and grow together. Daisy’s nephew, Emmanuel Pothen, then living in Gloucester, Mass., took that desire and turned it into reality, bringing on Brooke Fryer as Anugra’s creative director.

Each product is handmade by women in Bhopal, India.

In the western world, purchase power is a new found glory. We all want to know where each of our products come from and how many hands have handled it. We have the privilege to choose: the choice to participate in transformation and impact. Quality over quantity. We have the opportunity to invest in more than our personal wardrobe or décor, but in lives across the globe, writing a new story for humans just like us, born into different circumstances.

Bindu printing table runners

Brooke Fryer (far right) with some of the women of Anugra

Website: anugra.co

Purchase: anugra.co/shop

Donate: anugra.co/donate

Follow: anugra.co on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest

 

Want to learn more about Anugra and meet Brooke? Come to Imagine Conference this Friday and Saturday!

Want to shop these pieces in person and hear the incredible stories behind them? Join us for Discover Anugra on Monday, November 13, at 7 p.m. at North Way Christian Community, 12121 Perry Hwy., Wexford, PA 15090.

A21 Dressember Everyday Advocacy Imagine Conference Start

‘We All Must Do Something’

This post is adapted from the original, which appeared on the Imagine Conference blog. Read to the end to see how you can be part of Imagine Conference this year!

Her name is Nicole, and I met her.

She traveled all the way from California to my house. I wish I could say I’d invited her. She walked right up to my front door and knocked. “I can’t let you in,” I said. “I have so much going on, you know, with work, my husband, kids. I’m a mom; you understand.”

There was no response. She knocked again. “I guess you didn’t hear me; I can’t let you in. I have to send these emails and plan dinner. The house is a mess. Sorry! Not a good time.” Nothing. Then came more knocking, soft and polite. “Wow, you again.” I was getting annoyed. “Honestly? I haven’t worked out yet today, or had my quiet time, or showered for that matter,” I said. “Can you please come back when I’ve met all their needs plus my own, wrapped up these projects, gotten myself organized, and my kids are in school all day?”

I opened the door a crack and walked away because I thought she’d left. Then she was standing in my living room. “My name is Nicole,” she said. She had long brown hair and was extremely attractive—she looked like she could have been about my age but was probably younger. Her look was on trend, and she had a welcoming smile. “Hi, Nicole,” I said, and I resumed working.

“When I was 18 years old, I was addicted to drugs and dancing at a club to make ends meet,” she began. “I met a guy, and he offered to help me get clean.”

That was the beginning of her nightmare, as that man would eventually enslave and traffic her across the United States, forcing her to pick up other women off the street as they went.

I stopped what I was doing and listened as Nicole shared details I couldn’t even repeat about her seven-year ordeal, which included constant abuse, threats of violence, and two forced abortions. As she talked, I could hear my two daughters shrieking with laughter from their attic playroom, and I broke down and wept.

Because her name is Nicole, and I met her. And my world was rocked forever.

 

A Call to Action

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. There are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history:

27 million in slaveryThe U.S. State Department last put the number of victims worldwide at an estimated 27 million, but according to its most recent report, it’s likely in the tens of millions.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year, according to the International Labour Organization.

In 2016, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran away.

While there is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the United States, it probably reaches into the hundreds of thousands.

And here’s the kicker:

Only 1 percent of human trafficking victims are ever rescued.

That these statistics are overwhelming and disheartening is an understatement.

Impossible might be the best way to describe the prospect of even slowing the momentum of this massive, powerful, runaway freight train of darkness—let alone stopping it in its tracks.

Except for one thing.

As Christians, we serve the God who created every single man, woman, and child enslaved in trafficking today—who sees, and knows, and loves each and every one of them. The God for whom nothing is impossible, and who wants to remind us that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27, Matthew 19:26). The God who might be calling you to action. Just like he called Christine.

 

We Can’t Do it All, But We Can All Do Something

In 2007, Christine Caine—today an internationally known teacher, evangelist, activist, author, and speaker—was walking through the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece, when she noticed that littering the walls were handmade posters showing the faces of girls and women who had disappeared. She wondered how there could be so many people missing at the same time, until someone told her they were all victims of human trafficking.

Caine was incredulous. “I thought ‘Human trafficking? That doesn’t happen, that’s ridiculous.’ Then I went online and did some research, and I was stunned.” [“Abolishing Sex Slavery by Helping One Girl at a Time”]

Or as she would later put it: “My. World. Was. Rocked. Forever. … Life as I knew it before seeing the missing posters was over.” [“A Dream Come True”]

A year later in 2008, she and her husband, Nick, founded The A21 Campaign, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. A21’s comprehensive approach includes raising awareness, preventing future trafficking, taking legal action, and providing rehabilitation services to survivors.

With a stated mission to abolish slavery everywhere forever, A21 has 12 offices in 11 countries—all focused on aspects of its three-pronged solution: Reach, Rescue, Restore.

 

 

REACH THE VULNERABLE AND DISRUPT THE DEMAND.
RESCUE VICTIMS AND SEEK JUSTICE AGAINST THEIR CAPTORS.
RESTORE SURVIVORS AND EQUIP THEM TO LIVE INDEPENDENTLY.

That first one, Reach. That’s where you and I come in: “Prevent slavery from ever happening by engaging people through events, student presentations, and education programs.”

Chances are you’re feeling pretty unqualified right about now, seeing as how you’re not ready to go off and found an entire antislavery organization. Chances are you’re thinking something along the lines of

I’m too busy.
It’s too big an issue.
I can’t do it all.

But we can all do something.

“Often, I think, because we think, ‘I can’t do it all,’ we end up being paralyzed. So we do nothing,” says Caine. “But if we understand we can’t do everything but we all must do something, and we all find the one thing that we can do, then we’ll find that together we will all make such a huge difference and we’ll be able to put a stop to this.”

 

Putting a Stop to This Part One: The Walk for Freedom

Remember my earlier encounter with Nicole? It was imagined, but her story isn’t, and it was what showed up in my living room that day. A few years later, on a warm May night at a church in suburban Pittsburgh, I was there as Nicole stood next to Christine Caine and shared her story live in front of an audience for the first time. You see, Nicole is alive, well, and free today because of A21. And now, she’s part of the fight.

So were we.

Walk for Freedom Pittsburgh Point State Park

Walk for Freedom Pittsburgh participants standing for freedom in front of the Point State Park fountain

On October 14, 2017, I joined tens of thousands of other 21st-century abolitionists in 400 cities and 50 countries around the world by participating in the Walk For Freedom, A21’s global fundraising and awareness campaign, in downtown Pittsburgh. A couple hundred of us dressed in black gathered outside Station Square and walked silently in single file to Point State Park. Along the way, we shared statistics and literature about human trafficking with curious passersby.

Check out the video recap:

 Missed the walk this year? Join us next year, and in the meantime …

 

Putting a Stop to This Part Two: Imagine Conference 2017

Join me at Imagine Conference 2017! The Imagine Conference, being held this year November 10-11, 2017, at North Way Christian Community equips, educates, and engages believers in the biblical call to care for the vulnerable, the lonely, the hurting and the at-risk people around them.

During the two-day event, participants will hear powerful stories and compelling speakers; attend breakout sessions; and meet other like-minded people interested in seeking justice and living out love in areas like family preservation, mentoring, ministry to refugees, adoption and foster care, missions, human trafficking, and embracing all life as made in the image of God.

Eugene Cho

Eugene Cho, Imagine Conference 2017 keynote speaker

On Friday, November 10, experience an incredible night of worship and storytelling and hear from keynote speaker Eugene Cho!

Learn directly from those who are on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking, and find out how to support and partner with local and national organizations like A21.

Together, as followers of Jesus, we can do something. Together, we can answer His call to live out love.

 

 

 

“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life… Use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” Galatians 5:14

 

Register NOW for Imagine Conference, and while you’re there, stop by the A21 and Dressember table and say hi!