“I’m going to bike the west coast,” she said. I laughed, as most of my sister’s ideas were crazy. I could not wait for mom to shoot this one down. Thinking it was an insane athletic challenge to prove something to herself, I had nothing to say when she explained to me why this was something she wanted to do. “Advocating for victims and survivors of sex trafficking,” she said, with passion and fire in her voice. Even with my amateur understanding of what that term even referred to, I knew this was such an important cause. Over the next few months of my sister making noise about modern-day slavery in our small, privileged town, I learned how few people understood this issue.
While I learned the statistics, stories and sadness of it all, I still saw it as my sister’s fight. It was her thing, her cause, her passion, and I was just her biggest fan. My passion remained to be with children in the foster care system. I have a deep understanding of how foster children are so incredibly disadvantaged. Only 3% who age out will earn a college degree. 1 in 2 who age out will develop substance dependence. 7 in 10 girls who age out will become pregnant before age 21 (statistics from the National Foster Youth Institute). Since I learned these appalling statistics, I have wanted to change them. Have you ever had the kind of passion where you feel this so deeply and see it so clearly, you can’t understand why everyone else isn’t making the same noise about it? That’s the way I feel about advocating for foster children. And that’s the way I saw my sister feel about advocating for trafficking victims and survivors.
For most, it takes a story or a moment for something to finally click– to finally understand what all the fuss is about a certain injustice. For me, all it takes is numbers. If you can show me that 60% of sex trafficking victims have been in foster care (stat from Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth), I can’t ignore that. In fact, for me, it’ll make me think even more. I spent my summer working for a nonprofit in Auburn, Alabama that provides resources, community and events for foster families in the area. I will never forget the details of each story that broke my heart and gave me purpose all at the same time. Each was a tragedy that left me wanting better for these children, yet left me thankful I could be there to do something practical for them. I received a call about a little boy who had just been placed in care. He didn’t even have shoes on his feet. I got to help a mom figure out what formula her new foster baby needed. She was all over the place, a mom of four biological children who simply knew this was what she could bring to the table. I got to speak to an aunt whose niece and nephew were dropped off at a shelter six hours away and she was their only relative. She was a young woman, unprepared to be a mom, but doing what she had to do.
Children are so vulnerable. I have spent most of my time working at an elementary school, and the more time I spend there, the more I stand by this. Children are at all times trying to spell out for us what they need. There is not a single child– human, for that matter– who doesn’t love attention. When this comes from trusted family and friends, it is safe. Yet traffickers know exactly how to use that desire to lure in young girls– and it sadly does not take that much work. 91% of victims already know their trafficker (NCMEC). Yet these traffickers know how to pick their victims so that it is something they can get away with.
The 2023 team is reading Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd (founder and CEO of GEMS). The author is a trafficking survivor with much insight. Lloyd (2011) speaks to the myth when she writes,
“Yet it may take longer to manipulate the well-adjusted fourteen-year-old, and in the process, she’ll be missed pretty quickly by her parents, who’ll notify the police, who may put out an Amber alert. There might be a story on the eleven-o’clock news about her disappearance, and once she’s found, the perpetrator is likely to be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But if you shift some of the variables in the case – make the child a child of color, a runaway, a child in the foster care system, a child no one’s really going to miss, a child so starved of attention and affection that anything you provide will be welcomed, a child who’ll be seen as a willing participant in her exploitation – the story changes dramatically. There’s no Amber Alert, no manhunt, no breaking news story, no Nancy Grace coverage, no police investigation, no prosecution. It’s just another “teen prostitute,” another one of the nameless, faceless, ignored and already damaged.”
This is what creates the perfect recipe for a predator. I compare our team to these victims and survivors in a lot of ways. We are young, naive and stubborn, desiring love and attention. I assume we like the same artists, know the same social media references and can do the same TikTok dances. And yet, I hate comparing myself to these survivors. I have never been through what they have been through. I have about 20 people in my life who would notice in 24 hours if I went missing. I know despite all of those 20 people’s financial struggles, they would do anything they needed to get me back. This is a privilege. In my most vulnerable moments, I am still so safe. I know my absence would never go unnoticed, and every young girl, boy, or person, should feel the same way.