You know, I thought of a dozen ways that I could start this blog post.
I could start with a list of facts, figures, and numbers of what human trafficking looks like in Pennsylvania; or walk you through the details of learning about human trafficking for the first time in 10th grade and something sparked within; or rant with anger and frustration that the Church isn’t doing more; or man-bash those who trap girls (and boys) and the complacency of other men who keep them there; or I could try to catch your emotions with a story of a 12 year old girl, who ran away from an abusive, alcoholic father and then got picked up by a pimp 3 days later…
There are so many emotions, facts, and realities that make this blog post… difficult… and that word is a gross understatement.
Then I realized that it isn’t my job to man-bash, hate on the Church for who she is, or pull out all the facts and number of the trafficking system. My job is to write what I know and what I’ve learned, then to pray that those who are supposed to hear, know, and care with me, will.
So this is what I know:
Human trafficking is a reality that many people don’t know about, or don’t know how to combat. It is modern day slavery. Dark and deeply twisted into the shadows of society, many people believe the girls dancing in strip clubs, or selling themselves online as “escorts” got themselves there and need to get themselves out. “They just need to change their behavior and find a new job.” Or my favorite, “Well they should all be old enough to know better.” We live in a sexually perverse world and many of those girls are too young, it is illegal, and were sold into the system by family members; they were picked up by pimps who groomed them with gifts and coercion; or the girls suffered in abusive or neglectful homes and don’t know anything else. The depth of what they do has become part of their DNA and psyche so to speak.
Then there are the men who frequent those strip clubs, pay for an escort, or buy into the fantasy of porn (in a more passive approach) to keeping women in such dehumanizing conditions.
Then there are the pimps and traffickers themselves, the club owners, the truck drivers, and the law enforcement that know of the traffic rings, but also know the money involved. Money speaks louder than anything else to many.
All of this leads me to one word: brokenness.
Whether for money, selfishness, or not having options human trafficking is nasty on all accounts; a labyrinth of demons and dead ends, a real life horror story. But I have to believe something can be done. Not single-handedly, myself taking down traffickers and seeing lives transformed, but just something.
Which is why in January 2016 when I discovered a faith based non-profit located a couple of hours from me, that sends speakers to home parties, I decided to reach out! I emailed the organization a few times, asked questions, waited, and prayed. Finally in March of this year, just two days ago, I hosted a speaker to come up and talk about her non-profit, but mostly to teach about human trafficking in the area I live in, State College, PA, home of the Nittany Lions and Penn State University, our very own, Happy Valley.
Change Purse, the non-profit, has been doing home parties for 6 years now, after their inception in 2010. It started when a group of friends with children found out about modern day slavery through a Dateline episode, the girl being taken in Aruba in 2005, and other non-profit awareness groups. They sold their purses and refurbished other purses donated to them to give 100% of the profits to help with human trafficking efforts, such as funding safe houses for girls. (Since their first personal purse drive, they have raised and given away over $150,000. Amazing!)
Then in 2008, the movie Taken was released, opening the eyes of many people through the fictional story of a Dad and former FBI agent who chases down his daughter’s captor’s who are going to sell her into sex slavery.
This stuff is real and it is all too close to home. Krista, the speaker from Change Purse, showed my friends and I three photos and names of girls on Penn State’s back door website to hire escorts, “State College’s Sweetheart,” “Asian Baby Doll,” and “Giovanna.” She told us girls who take selfies for photos are probably not being trafficked, but girls who’s photos are taken of them, most certainly have a pimp. The one girl she showed us was obviously underage (though her bio said she was 21) and she wasn’t taking her own photos. I wonder… where is that girl living in State College, and how can she be helped? What’s more is that the girls are so disposable, even if one gets out of the system, like Krista has witnessed in her area with helping girls, then traffickers easily replace them, a daunting cycle.
Additionally, State College is in the middle of Pennsylvania, a cross roads with the I-99 from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the I-80 (which goes straight to NYC), and Route 322. The 322 leads straight to Ohio a major trafficking state. Also it leads to the I-81, a major highway route that runs from TN to the Canadian border, straight through PA. This highway is notorious for trafficking both drugs and people and a stretch of the I-80, near Carlisle, PA is called “The Miracle Mile” that 6,000-7,000 trucks stop at every day. Back in 2005 Operation Precious Cargo was in motion in this one mile stretch lined with cheap hotels and 6 truck stops. Operation Precious Cargo, a trafficking ring that got away for years, has since been shut down (so I’ve read), but there is still crime and it’s a major junction today.
After learning and exploring for a couple of days now, I ask again, what can I do? There aren’t any grass roots movements or non-profits in State College that I have seen to help with modern day slavery, though I did find an article from a girl who survived human trafficking and recently spoke on campus at Penn State. There was another article written in 2015 that shares a little bit about human trafficking in this area.
This post is by no means perfect, but all of this I write to share what I’m learning. I want to alert the Church, men, women, children, and people of the Penn State community the realities of slavery today, which honestly is shaded by graphic conversations like this that people laugh about. Penn State and State College: It is time to wake up. There are too good of people here that will not stand by to allow girls to be sold on websites with Penn State in the domain. And the local authorities have to be aware of the cargo driving by on these highways.
I don’t know, maybe I’m at the front end of things here in State College, but for the past 6 years that modern day slavery issues have been picking up, I’m surprised at how few conversations and organizations there are in my home city, a pretty affluent and educated area. If nothing else, I pray this sparks a conversation or two.
If you want to know more there are super valuable messages of hope at the Not For Sale Campaign, started by David Batstone. This is a great resource for learning and understanding trafficking both home in the USA and abroad.