HUMAN TRAFFICKING is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, with recent statistics from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation reporting an estimated 40.3 million people trapped in modern slavery, including those in forced labor and in forced marriage.
The United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines trafficking as the recruitment or transport of persons using some form of force, fraud, or coercion for an exploitative purpose. Here are a few examples of how Wheaton alumni are working to combat this global injustice—and how you can get involved, too.
Call Centers and Emergency Care
Ashley Schoen Polito ’15 works at Polaris, a national nonprofit organization fighting human trafficking. She assisted victims of trafficking via phone as a Senior Hotline Advocate for nearly three years and now serves as Operations Coordinator.
“Some days we take tips from or provide support to family members of trafficking victims, and some days we speak directly with victims about how to stay safe and coordinate extraction plans with law enforcement,” Ashley says. “While we have seen thousands of individuals find hope and support from the hotline and have been able to help them get connected to local providers, some of my hardest days have been after working with a survivor for hours and still not being able to find an organization that can help meet their basic needs.”
To this end, Sarah Gossman Davis ’11 works with victims and survivors at REST: Real Escape from the Sex Trade, a nonprofit that works with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. As a crisis intervention case manager at REST’s Emergency Receiving Center, the first emergency homeless shelter for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation over the age of 18 in the state of Washington, Sarah’s job can be chaotic and unpredictable. Her days are filled with case management appointments with clients who arrive in crisis.
“Often, they don’t know what they want or need, because they’ve been in crisis survival mode for so long,” Sarah says. “My job is to help them feel safe and stable enough to dream and to discover more of who they are and what they want from life.” Sarah’s journey to REST began during her freshman year at Wheaton when she joined the International Justice Mission (IJM) Campus Chapter Leadership Team. During her time at Wheaton, she also became involved with the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) Program and served for six months with Samaritana Transformation Ministries Inc. in the Philippines working with survivors of prostitution and trafficking.
“It was during that time that I truly began to feel called to become a counselor with specific training in trauma and sexual abuse,” Sarah says. “Seven years later, I’m working with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation on a daily basis.”
In a similar vein, Brittany Anderson ’14 leads a monthly call center of volunteers who reach out to girls advertised online for sex. This volunteer-run nonprofit is New Name—a ministry of love, hope, and presence to women in the adult entertainment industry.
“We connect with them on the phone and offer lifelines through a variety of resources,” Brittany says. “Sometimes we get the opportunity to pray on the phone or sometimes they just need a friend.” In addition to numerous outreach and awareness initiatives, New Name recently opened a bridal boutique in Wheaton where they sell donated wedding dresses for 50 to 80 percent below retail price. One hundred percent of the income goes back to New Name.
Wheaties at International Justice Mission
More Wheaton alumni work at International Justice Mission (IJM) than at any other anti-trafficking organization in the world.
With 17 field offices worldwide, IJM has established global teams of lawyers, investigators, social workers, and community activists to combat trafficking and abuse.
Wheaties that have taken up ranks in IJM’s D.C. headquarters include Alesha Guruswamy Rusk ’04, senior program manager for South Asia; Janelle Milazzo Lau ’06, aftercare specialist, bonded labor; Casey Rath ’08, digital mobilization manager; Adam ’09 and Erin Hendriksen Payne ’09, data analysis and integration specialist and regional program manager, Latin America, respectively; Joshua Little ’12, global communications manager; and Andrea Rodriguez M.A. ’17, communications manager, Latin America.
Kaign Christy ’80 passed away in fall 2017 after serving with IJM for over a decade helping victims of trafficking worldwide, most recently from enslavement at Lake Volta in Ghana.
Free the Girls
Dave Terpstra ’98 founded Free the Girls, an international nonprofit organization devoted to offering sex trafficking survivors a path to economic freedom, restored health, and education, in 2011.
By donating bras to Free the Girls, donors provide an economic opportunity for trafficked women in El Salvador, Mozambique, and Uganda to start their own businesses selling bras while they recover and build a new life. Free the Girls collaborates with partners in those three countries to equip women to earn a safe income and to provide programming for holistic reintegration.
“Free The Girls is the result of the passion to create an opportunity for everyday people to become everyday abolitionists,” Dave says. “Trafficking is a global problem, but all of us can do simple things to help in the fight like learning which products tend to have trafficking in their production chain and buying only from manufacturers that certify their products were produced slave-free.”
Greg Arthur ’98 is Free the Girls’ board president and senior pastor of Duneland Community Church in Indiana. He became friends with Dave playing volleyball outside Traber Dorm, and now offers his church as the international shipping and receiving site for Free the Girls. In the past five years, Duneland has shipped out over 500,000 bras.
“This partnership has transformed our church and gotten our people involved in the fight against trafficking,” Greg says. “Even more compelling than the darkness of trafficking is the incredible light of rescue, healing, and breakthrough for survivors.”
THE LOCUST EFFECT BY GARY HAUGEN AND VICTOR BOUTROS
THE JUSTICE CALLING: WHERE PASSION MEETS PERSEVERANCE BY BETHANY HANKE HOANG AND KRISTEN DEEDE JOHNSON
THE WHITE UMBRELLA: WALKING WITH SURVIVORS OF SEX TRAFFICKING BY MARY FRANCES BOWLEY
IN OUR BACKYARD BY NITA BELLES
GOD IN A BROTHEL BY DANIEL WALKER
NOT FOR SALE BY DAVID BATSTONE
Statistics courtesy of the International Labor Organization, 2017.