Ending the Demand for Sex Trafficking

by Shelbe Gibson Isn’t it cool when school projects are relevant? When they become something you WANT to do, rather than something you HAVE to do? I was blessed with a project like that this semester. It all came together today, leaving me feeling accomplished, productive, and ready to shout what I’ve learned to the world!

For my Senior Seminar 2 class, my partner and I were assigned to put together a men’s training event for End Slavery Tennessee. We had to coordinate the speaker’s travels to Nashville from Chicago, find, invite, and take care of the male attendees, and get everything for the daylong seminar in order. The event was intended to equip men with the knowledge to present to young boys about the dangers of trafficking, exploiting women, and what it really means to be a “man.” The curriculum was written by Caleb Probst from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. (CAASE). I was told beforehand that Caleb’s presentation was impressive, but he blew me away with how engaging and interactive he was while getting across his very powerful message.

My favorite exercise was simple, but impactful. Caleb asked the men to shout out words that would describe a man who has a lot of women, a man who sleeps around a lot. Words like “pimp", "player", "stud", and "lucky” were put on the list. Next, he asked them to list what words society uses to describe women who display the same behavior. The words didn’t seem to have the same positive connotation—words like “whore", "slut", "skank", and "tramp” were written on that piece of paper. It was much longer than the males' list, too. Seeing the differences in the two was eye-opening. They were partaking in the SAME acts, but one gender is praised while the other is given the scarlet letter.

This demonstration started engaging and vibrant conversation that lasted the whole day. Caleb defined sexual exploitation, human trafficking, pimping, and gender-based violence. Through popular advertisements and Top 40 song lyrics (YouTube the lyrics to Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke), he showed how much the media is contributing to the sexual exploitation of women and how warped our view of “manliness” has become. Why is it manly to objectify women? To consider them an ends to a selfish means? Sex outside of marriage, especially sex with random women for money, may provide instant gratification, but it just adds to the awful cycle of brokenness and loneliness in the lives of both parties.

No little girl dreams of growing up to be a prostitute. In a HUGE majority of the cases, prostitution is NOT a choice. That widely used excuse needs to be thrown into the trash. Girls become prostitutes because they are forced, coerced, or lured. They have been told over and over by society that they aren’t good enough; they start to believe it. Sometimes, they feel too inadequate or under-educated to have any job besides prostitution. It is an act of desperation, but still not a happily made choice. When women are failed to be shown real, true love, they are easily manipulated by pimps. If WE (the church, society…) don’t start showing them love, then you better believe that plenty of pimps out there will step up and take our place!

The Church is a body of broken people made whole by Christ. We are all broken and messy and not good enough. There are no “pretty” sins and there is not “sin scale” that makes some better than others. As the body of Christ, we need to welcome and love prostitutes and even pimps. It’s not okay to be scared of words like sex, prostitution, porn, or trafficking in the church. If we aren’t equipping our young people, the world will do that for us.

I, then, sat back and listened as these professional, Christian men talked about their struggles with pornography—how the porn industry has hindered their own relationships and how they see it destroying the lives of youth. They conversed about the unrealistic standards set by society for both men and women. What does it REALLY mean to be a man?? Are men controlling, dominating, and forceful? Is that what you want your son to grow up to be?

When fighting human trafficking and forced prostitution, it’s vital to include men in the conversation. Those conversations don’t always have to be stories of victims or hard-to-grasp statistics, either. This is a huge problem that can seem daunting and overwhelming. Where do you even start to “fix” this worldwide epidemic? Well, you start with trainings like these. You open the lines of communication, raising awareness and brainstorming ideas to help.

Fighting the culture of sex in our society will help halt human trafficking. It’s basic business—with no demand, you don’t need a supply! If we watch our language, are pro-active about not consuming songs, movies, or books that feed this industry, and share what we know with others, then we are active in this fight!! I’m positive that the men present at the training today will impact the lives of many young boys. They will prevent future johns and pimps. These volunteers will be mentors, role models, and safe places for teens who need just that.

For a more personal look into the lives of girls who are lured into prostitution, watch the video below. The narrator, Rachel Lloyd, is the founder of GEMS Girls, an organization helping girls leave the industry in New York City. Rachel, a survivor herself, is one tough cookie. I can only hope that one day I can be as impactful and bold as she is in this crucial fight against human trafficking.

The Most Powerful Weapon

In the fight against trafficking the most powerful weapon we have is prayer!! In fact, it's the most powerful weapon we can use against any form of evil.

I must admit, though, that there are times I get so overwhelmed by the idea of young children being used as sex slaves that I just don't know what to pray. That is when I remember Romans 8:26-27...

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (NIV)

During my prayers for the victims (or as I call them, "innocents"), I also pray for those who work to set the prisoners free. I pray they will have wisdom and discernment. I pray for their safety. I thank the Lord for their willingness to go into potentially dangerous places to rescue the women and children.

I also include in my prayers those who work with the innocents after they are rescued. I thank the Lord for their abilities to help these dear ones to be restored to wholeness.

There are others involved in trafficking I pray for sometimes, but they are the hardest ones of all for whom to find the words...the perpetrators. I'll be honest; I do not want to or like to pray for them and I don't pray for them as often as I pray for their victims. But, maybe to some extent, they are the ones who need the most prayer. If the Lord changes their hearts and attitudes, then there will be fewer women and children who become victims of this horrendous evil.

I believe with all my heart that prayer can and does change things! Sometimes not as fast as we like, but everything is in God's timing! So, pray, pray, pray!! It's a powerful weapon!


This post was originally published at Nana's Notes

Survivor Stories - Adela

End Slavery TN - Survivor Stories*




My mother will never receive an award for her parenting. I was always a commodity to her. Something to sell for drugs and booze as a six year old. Another hand to help her make crack in the kitchen. I have never been her child, her pride and joy. She never held me in her arms and whispered her love in my ear.

I was just Adela. The commodity. The nothing.

For awhile it felt like a blessing that she kicked me out of our apartment at sixteen. I went to live with some girlfriends and thought I’d be living the high life in the big city. Boy was I wrong about that! When the girls told me I had to earn my keep, they introduced me to a pimp. First time I saw him I thought he was fly. A real smooth talker. I felt flattered by his sexy talk and his coy smiles. But now I know, that was all just to butter me up. Get me to be his whore who’d turn tricks down at the track. Those flirty words were quickly replaced with hostile threats. If I didn’t make a thousand bucks a day, he would beat me. Or worse. One of them even cut up my face with a potato peeler just to mark me as his. It was still nothing compared to my best girl. She was killed in cold blood by her pimp, just as an example to the rest of us. "Stay in line and shut up" is what her body said.

I got sold so many times from pervert to pervert and pimp to pimp, I could hardly keep up with whose I was anymore. I was a dollar bill, folded up and passed from pocket to pocket.

I’m still not sure what snapped in me. Maybe it was having to ID my one friend down at the morgue. Maybe it was just that I was tired of being everybody’s nobody. Mostly, I think, it was that I got pregnant and I didn’t want my baby to grow up in the world I was living in. Whatever it was, I got out. I fled.

And when I was safe, I wanted to bring down every last one of them. So I talked to the feds, and I testified in court. They said I had been caught up in a major trafficking ring and that I’d still be in danger even though we got a bunch of them locked up. I didn’t care. I wanted to talk. Talk to anyone who would listen. Raise awareness about how trafficking isn’t just some foreign problem. It’s happening right under everyone’s noses in Good Ole America. This one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. Well, now that I got my liberty, I’m fighting for all those little girls like me that others can’t even see.

When I first got in contact with End Slavery Tennessee, I was a real mess. A hard life led to some real hard living for awhile. But advocacy groups like ESTN stuck with me through thick and thin. And now I’m about to graduate from college. College! Who could’ve dreamed such a thing just a few years ago?!

I was a sex slave in a slum city, but now I’m a blessed warrior with a golden ticket.

It’s like that verse in Genesis says – what they did to harm me, God used to bless me, so that many would be saved. I’m living proof that God uses the most unlikely of people to bring His own liberty and justice to those who need His deliverance

*These stories are written in the first person, even though they are not written by the survivors themselves. However, apart from the omission of names and identifying information, all aspects of the stories have really happened, right here in Tennessee.

Gear Up for the Ride for Refuge 2013

It’s time to build our ESTN Ride for Refuge teams!

Would you help turn a fun bike ride into an event that transforms lives?

The Ride for Refuge is a cycling fundraiser that supports over 165 charitable partners who in turn support thousands more who are displaced, vulnerable or exploited – refugees, orphans, widows, street kids, the urban poor, homeless, victims of human trafficking – the list is extensive. This fall, thousands of other riders and volunteers in Canada and the USA will raise $1,000,000 for some of the most marginalized people in our world. End Slavery Tennessee is once again one of the charities benefiting this year, and the funds we raise through our team will go directly to caring for the victims we’re privileged to serve and support.

By riding, jogging, walking, volunteering, or just fundraising, you can help End Slavery TN with:

  • Hiring a human trafficking survivor: someone well along the road to recovery to mentor new rescues, facilitate prevention groups with the most vulnerable girls and advise us in our work
  • Prevention: Empower young people to avoid falling prey to a trafficker’s traps. Intensive work with especially vulnerable girls and adding a program for boys. Resourcing church leaders to work in their church and community.
  • Victim Aid for the survivors we serve: from the immediate and urgent like food, clothing, medical attention and safe shelter to the long term, like job skills, counseling and legal aid. Some needs are large; help getting a reliable car so they can work or getting a home of their own furnished, covering initial rent and deposits while they get on their feet, or transportation to get a child to a shelter and away from a bad home situation.

These are just a handful examples out of many. Our services are available to all human trafficking survivors in Middle Tennessee: Adults and minors; foreign nationals and US citizens; victims of labor, service or sex trafficking.

The ride is October 12 at The Donelson Fellowship Church (3210 McGavock Pike, Nashville), and we’ll have free bicycle rentals available if you want to ride but don’t have a bike. No excuses ;-)

Would you help us help them? Come join in the fun (and sweat) by clicking on the link below:

Please contact Jana (contact info on the poster) if you have questions, and we hope to see you on our team!

Note: if you don't want to join, or even if you do, please consider donating to sponsor a rider or team. We do a LOT with a little. 


Abolitionist Intern

Last fall  I enrolled in a class at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) titled “Special Problems and Topics in Global Studies: Global Issues in Human Trafficking.” I thought it sounded interesting and wanted to learn more on the topic. Throughout the course we partnered with the local nonprofit End Slavery Tennessee. Global Studies majors here at MTSU have the chance to earn credit by finding an internship with a global aspect. After volunteering last semester with Dana Montgomery, an End Slavery Tennessee (ESTN) representative, I decided End Slavery Tennessee would be great for my internship.

Since then Dana and I have worked together in Murfreesboro to develop the internship for future semesters.  I officially started in January and have since created a template for future interns’ requirements based on my own tasks and jobs completed for ESTN.  Much of what I do entails assisting Dana with projects and presentations that cover different aspects of human trafficking. I have also helped with creating forms and applications for upcoming interns.

Proff Justice MTSU

Currently Dana and I are pairing up with Global Studies Professor Justin Phalichanh to help strengthen the partnership between End Slavery TN and the Global Studies program at MTSU.  On April 11 at MTSU, we held a movie screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, a documentary that exposes the nightmare of sex trafficking. This movie screening will hopefully become a recurring project between Global Studies and ESTN. It not only helps give the ESTN intern the opportunity to help plan the event, but also gives students taking the “Global Issues in Human Trafficking” course a chance to learn more about the issue.

When I took the Global Studies course “Global Issues in Human Trafficking” last semester, we had to pick a country or theme related to trafficking for an extensive research paper. I chose to research and write about sex trafficking and exploitation in Costa Rica because I would be traveling there for my upcoming spring break as a mini study abroad trip. Three weeks ago I left for Costa Rica without any knowledge of Spanish, but no worries. I enjoyed my 10-day trip immensely, but there were times that my research paper on Costa Rica crept back into my mind. I remembered reading that the majority of the sex trafficking cases reported in Costa Rica occurred in the north and central Pacific coast areas, which is where we stayed for part of the trip. It is amazing how unaware people can be of something that happens around them all the time.


Survivor story: Hannah      

A true story, put into words by Pax Wiemers

Hannah_2_300_cropped smaller

It’s always struck me as ironic that my family came to this country as African refugees in search of a better life – the American dream. None of us could have imagined the American horror story about to unfold. As a young teenager in search of acceptance, I would become the sex toy for a gang of fellow refugees. Our visions didn’t include me being prostituted for nearly eight years by my countrymen. No, my life was anything but a dream.

Trust me, little girls don’t want to grow up wanting to become prostitutes. I sure didn’t. But, I was betrayed. Coerced. Forced. Made to be that way. However you want to define it, I didn’t have a choice. That’s why I ran away. And that’s why I testified in a big trial of many of those gang members. I may not be able to undo the past, but at least I can choose my future.

During the trial I came to know several people with End Slavery Tennessee. I was very apprehensive at first because I felt like everyone was just out to use me. I was just a commodity. But they didn’t treat me that way, even though I was an absolute mess. Since I felt so alone, I had been abusing drugs and alcohol pretty hard and had racked up a not-so-little criminal record too. End Slavery never judged me though. They’ve gotten me the help I have needed in all phases of my life, even when I’ve doubted them.

Recently, a member of the gang was released, so End Slavery pulled a bunch of strings to get me moved quickly to a safe place. Not only was I at risk in this situation, but my baby boy was too. We’ve found refuge in this safe haven, but they’ve given me so much more as well. I’ve been going through their recovery program, stayed clean from drugs and booze, and have been seeing a counselor. We’ve been here several months now, and I’ve undergone a complete transformation. I feel I’ve become a new person – the one I was always intended to be. I love my boy and am so thankful he won’t grow up in an environment that turns boys into gang members who victimize girls like I was.

I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all roses though. There’s still a lot to be undone. End Slavery has been working to get my criminal record expunged, due to my status as a trafficking survivor. My record is threatening my U.S. visa as well, which also makes it hard to find me a job when I get out of this shelter. There are definitely many challenges ahead, not to mention the constant danger of being labeled a traitor or a snitch by my own people.

But one thing keeps me going. I’m not alone anymore. God gave me a beautiful son. I have friends who love me for who I am. And I have the most elusive of dreams now.

I have Hope.

The Forgotten Amendment

by Bucky Elliott (Note: This post represents the author's personal opinion, not an official position of End Slavery TN as an organization.)

I watched the film Lincoln on Blu-ray this week and I loved it.* As you may know, the movie's plot centers around the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That amendment was perhaps as controversial as it is powerful, but I fear the zeal pertaining to it has greatly waned to the point that it is all but forgotten.

The 13th Amendment seems antiquated since its immediate motivation and result was the abolition of the enslavement of Africans by Southern Plantation owners. However, as Lincoln expresses in one particular scene of the film, it was intended to do away with slavery within America's borders once and for all.

"The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate, for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come" - Abraham Lincoln

The principle text of the amendment follows:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This indicates that the United States government, not just private citizens and organizations, has a responsibility to maintain the abolition of slavery in America. It's more than a social justice issue; it is a Constitutional issue. And despite the words of Lincoln and this amendment, slavery does still exist in America.

Each year, between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. from other countries. Eighty-three percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are citizens. [sources]

"How can this happen? Unfortunately, it’s quite simple. There are people motivated by greed and profit who are willing to use others for their financial gain, regardless of the hardship imposed on the person being used. The fact that few of us suspect—or even believe—that it is happening here gives the traffickers an unparalleled leg up. Even when trafficking is exposed, the proof required to bring the perpetrators to justice makes prosecution of traffickers very difficult." - Nita Belles, "In Our Backyard"

Great strides toward the legal protection of human trafficking victims have been made through legislation such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, but no offenses against the Thirteenth Amendment have been prosecuted since 1947. The truth is that modern slavery - or human trafficking - is a difficult crime to prove and prosecute for a variety of reasons. Among those are the reality that relevant law enforcement training is still in a young stage of growth, that evidence is difficult to procure, that crime rings can span several states, and that most victims do not self-identify,  are taught that police are untrustworthy, and are afraid to testify against their traffickers and sometimes show loyalty to them.  With that motivation, I'd encourage fellow freedom fighters to speak up - and more importantly, step up - to capitol hill, to their own communities, to their own churches, and to their own streets for the sake of abolition. We The People, working together, can put an end to slavery in our nation "for all coming time" as Lincoln dreamed.

[*One exception: I was slightly offended by one inaccuracy. In the movie, a "Chilton A. Elliott" votes no on the Thirteenth Amendment. According to my research, nobody by that name was recorded in the chamber that day, but  there was a Thomas Dawes Elliot and he voted "Yea"! Not a bad legacy for my Scots-Irish clan.]

How to Set People Free by Writing a Letter

By Sindy Lee Ho 866071-map-of-the-state-of-tennessee-and-their-flag

I never really paid attention in my high school government class, and really, I’m one of the people they make fun of on those snappy political commentary shows because I don’t know who the Secretary of Defense is.

It’s funny how caring about something that is affected by legislature changes your view of these things.

Since human trafficking is such a lucrative business often backed by organized crime networks, laws enforcing and prosecuting activities that crack down on these criminal organizations are tantamount in putting a halt to trafficking. In the area of human trafficking, an environment that punishes the source of demand and individuals peddling goods for that demand will be infinitesimally more effective in stopping the problem than prosecuting the one providing the services to meet said demand.

In the last couple of years, Sweden’s legislative body is one that has taken great interest in passing laws that discourage sex trafficking. In the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, Sweden is listed as a country that fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. With laws in place providing temporary residency for victims of sex trafficking and criminalizing the sale and brokering of sex, Sweden has one of the lowest trafficking rates in Europe.

What if, with our collective voices, we could make the United States a country with the lowest human trafficking rate in the world? What if, with our heads held high and our hearts poured out in the form of lobbying for anti-trafficking laws to be passed, we could make the beautiful state of Tennessee completely uninhabitable by traffickers?

There are bills being laid on the table now in our state capitol. You can find the talking points, the senator and house representative supporting each, and the bill in question by clicking here .The senate and the house will be voting soon. As citizens who can influence the decisions of our decision-makers, we can make a difference. In fact, we invite you to join us in making a difference.

The first step is to write a letter, on paper or in digital form, to the representative and senator from your district. You can find the appropriate individuals delegated to your community by clicking here.

Doing a little bit of research on each person can be helpful when deciding where to direct your efforts – for instance, the senator in my constituency has been an advocate for and assisted in passing many bills related to domestic violence; whereas my house representative is focused on matters fairly unrelated to human trafficking. We must do our due diligence and do the absolute most with the resources we have.

If you want to be even more involved, here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

  1. Print out a large number of form letters addressed to the appropriate legislator and leave a blank space for a signature and printed name at the bottom. Attach to an appropriately addressed envelope and affix a stamp. Give to as many people as will commit to sending them. Make it nearly effortless for people to do their part.
  2. If you are a teacher with curriculum related to modern-day slavery {or olden day slavery}, U.S. Government, state history, etc. – do a class project that allows your students to write and send letters to the appropriate assemblyman.
  3. Create a petition for a specific bill you feel particularly passionate about and get as many signatures as you can, then send it off to the right person.
  4. Make a phone call to your district assemblyman’s office and voice your support on passing human trafficking bills.
  5. Spread the word! Get as many people interested and involved as you can.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I know you can come up with even more ways to spread awareness and raise support to get these bills passed. We are lucky to live in a country where the voice of the people still matters. You matter, I matter – and together WE matter. Together we stand to fight for those who have no voice.

Our founding fathers had a vision for our country to provide “unalienable rights” for everyone who dwells under the shelter of the flag. Among these were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Abraham Lincoln poured blood, sweat, and tears into passing legislature such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. Let us honor these visions for justice and freedom as we push to declare independence and proclaim emancipation for the slaves of our generation.

For as Mordecai told Queen Esther, we live in a time such as this, and to keep silent will mean a destruction of our people. Not only a destruction of our brothers and sisters trapped in the chains of slavery, but a destruction of the justice that houses our nation and our state.

Sometimes it can seem hopeless and overwhelming. It feels like we are just one little drop of salty water in a giant ocean, being drowned out by the crowd. And that may be true in some ways. But collectively, we are the ocean. Let the roar of our waves be heard as we pound the shore in our fight for freedom.

Ride for Refuge 2012

The morning of the Nashville Ride for Refuge dawned rainy and gray, but the weather didn't get us down!  My girls were so eager to Ride, even though it was COLD.  Watching all of the Riders line up and then take off in groups was very exciting!  With the last of the 8 mile group on their way, my two big girls on bikes, and my toddler, hitching a ride in the jogging stroller pushed by my husband Will, brought up the rear.  I enjoyed doing registration with Karen Karpinski and Dana Montgomery and greeting all of the riders was one of the highlights of my morning as I put faces with names that I'd seen on the Nashville Ride for Refuge website for the last few months.

My family enjoyed doing the first mile together, and then I went and picked up the two little girls so that my husband and oldest daughter could continue the Ride.  They went on to finish the ENTIRE 8 mile route!  When she came back inside, my 10-year-old looked about ready to fall over, but she was SO proud of herself (and so were we!).  It was such a confidence boosting experience for her and the little girls had a great time playing and eating yummy snacks donated by wonderful volunteers!

I've been volunteering with End Slavery TN for about 9 months and have wanted to involve my girls in this amazing abolition work, but have had to be careful as well because the issues around slavery can be graphic and disturbing.  The Ride for Refuge was the perfect event for a family wanting to do abolition work together, no matter the age!  There was something for everyone, whether it was participating in the Ride itself, helping with registration, food, set-up, trail side cheerleaders handing out snacks and water, you name it!

Ride Day was an amazing and fun morning with fabulous people who care deeply for the vulnerable, exploited, and displaced among us here in Middle Tennessee.  Being with such a group was a blessing for our family.  The fundraising leading up to the Ride was also a faith building experience.  Sixty-seven sponsors from all over the country sponsored my daughters.  They shared messages of love and support with my family and for the girls my girls were striving to serve--Girls helping Girls!  It was a grand circle of love and hope that touched my heart and showed me "that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” We loved doing the Ride and hope to make it a family tradition!

With Gratitude, The Will and Christy Grigg Family