I could have missed it, walked right by, hopped on the train and sped off into my life. Instead, I stopped and read every single word of this Amtrak poster - a warning about human trafficking.
Prostitution. Servitude. Forced Labor.
Each year innocent men, women and children are exploited in human trafficking schemes that include the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit them for labor or commercial sex. Any minor (under the age of 18) exploited for labor, or commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. . . .
As I read, I recalled a conversation I'd had only days before with Kathyann Powell, Founder and CEO of Saving Jane. When I sat down with Kathyann, I was struck by her fierce commitment to her organization which is dedicated to assisting human trafficking survivors and preventing new victims.
Trafficking is a subject that makes us flinch and causes us to turn away. It's ugly, it's threatening. Not in my life, you think. Although it's often hidden in plain sight, human trafficking is real and it is everywhere.
Human trafficking flourishes in Atlanta, DC, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, NYC, and San Diego. These cities are major hubs for human trafficking because they often host sporting events and conventions, are visited by thousands of tourists, and have large transient populations. The anonymity provided within large urban centers can make the trafficker's job simple.
It's estimated that 1 in 7 missing children are likely victims of child sex trafficking each year. Most of these children are native US citizens from lower and middle class families who were recruited via social media - with the average age being 13 or 14 years old. 68 percent were in the care of social services - a group home, government facility, or foster care - at the time they went missing.
Things have got to change, or these children will be trapped in an endless cycle of exploitation and violence. Kathyann told me about Saving Jane's national education project, which is designed to raise awareness in young people ages 10 through 18. They use graphic novels to illustrate the concept of human trafficking so kids can identify, avoid, and report it to trusted adults.
Saving Jane partners with schools, religious and community organizations, and youth groups to implement prevention initiatives nationwide. They work with the FBI, educators, social workers, and survivors to calibrate their programs and training - with a focus on at-risk demographics such as homeless, LGBTQI, autistic, and disabled youth.
Recognizing the signs is the first step in identifying victims, so Saving Jane offers Workshops where participants learn to identify indicators of human trafficking and red flags:
- Hangs out with older men
- Has expensive new phone
- Ignores her friends
- Stops her favorite activities
- She's pregnant
- Starts using birth control
- Has bruises or other injuries
- Despondent physical state or demeanor
- Acts fearful, anxious, submissive, tense, nervous, or paranoid
Due to the Internet and social media, traffickers have never before had such easy access to children; they can now initiate thousands of recruitment conversations. To leave kids uneducated makes them more vulnerable. The most important thing is to teach them about cyber-predators without scaring them. Saving Jane aims to empower kids to be effective agents in their own protection.
Saving Jane works with national and global organizations to distribute graphic novels that teach students about human trafficking - what it is, what it looks like, what to do when you see it, and how people fall victim to it. So, they go into schools and hold Comic Book Workshops.
Director of Storytelling and Prevention, Thomas Estler, uses comic books, film, music and social media as delivery vehicles. He composes and draws Saving Jane's popular comic book series that was created with the help of the FBI victim specialists, social workers, and anti-human trafficking organizations. His ABOLITIONISTA! Manga books are an image-driven call to action and effectively help kids get smart about social media:
ABOLITIONISTA! #goodgirlgone tells the story of how one girl becomes vulnerable and falls victim to a coercive predator who trafficks her. #goodgirlgone (ages 10 - 14) is accompanied by a teacher / leader version and can be taught in schools.
ABOLITIONISTA! Volume I and II both have female protagonists and are geared toward adolescents between 13 - 19 years old.
Another powerful tool that raises awareness is Saving Jane's Tee Shirts. With Anime-styled graphics that are hand drawn by Ozzyos Da Vyrus, one of these captivating Tees features:
Jada's African Ancestor from ABOLITIONISTA! Volume II
Many people don't realize how widespread and destructive human trafficking is. Raising awareness about human trafficking is essential to ending it. Saving Jane's committed to ending these crimes through education, raising public awareness, and the creation of systems, technology, and policies to prevent the formation of social conditions conducive to trafficking.
So, what's next?
Saving Jane is in the concept and development phase for campus-style facilities dedicated to protecting and empowering formerly trafficked people. These facilities would provide a comprehensive suite of support services, including short term and long term housing, childcare, and healthcare and mental health care resources.
As Survivors continue on their healing journeys, these sites would offer life skills, education, career skills, and economic development opportunities so that they can return to being an integral part of the greater community.
Finally, Saving Jane's long-term mission is to transform survivors into leaders. It's clear that this visionary organization is doing just that.