Trafficking Awareness: Healing the Scars

In recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month (January) and Day (Jan. 11, 2018), we are sharing a blog from ER ‘s Jessica Sanders. Scroll below for some of our other anti-trafficking posts.

Last May, while completing her time helping trafficking victims at a home for girls in the Dominican Republic, Jessica wrote this heart-felt blog that demonstrates the impact such abuse has on women.

Through It All

By Jessica Sanders, ER Orphans & Vulnerable Children Coordinator

By Jessica Sanders, As my time here is winding down, I am trying to gather my thoughts as to what exactly to share when I return home. I feel at times I don’t have the right words for everything that I have experienced, probably because I’m still trying to process some of it myself, but writing helps. It’s still hard to believe that it has only been a year…

The 15-year-old girl I taught to read and write is forever etched in my heart. How could I forget her? She was smart. She was beautiful and she knew it too. She was prideful, but that came with the terrain. She had no filter on her mouth and always said the first thing that popped into her head. Even though she was strong, both physically and emotionally, she had a soft spot. She could be difficult to work with and I remember one day, after having a challenging week with her and a few other girls, I asked for more compassion for her. I broke, and I cried for her.

That same girl, after only being in our care for a few weeks, escaped. It was bound to happen. As social services told us, “it’s not if it happens, but when it happens.” She was a girl from the streets and, as much as she wanted to change, she had yet to reach her “breaking point.” The streets still called her. I think that was the first event that “scarred” me and I cried. She returned three days later. I called it the “prodigal daughter” moment.

Related: Read how Katie Martinez and Elegantees are helping restore trafficking victims in Nepal.

Unfortunately, it was short lived as she again escaped one evening. It was after this incident we had to give her an ultimatum: to stay and abide by the rules, while taking advantage of everything that we offered, or removing her from our care. She was removed. It broke me, but I knew we made the right decision. You can only help someone so much until they are ready to help themselves. She wasn’t the only girl that we had this ultimatum with. There were others. And every time I knew it was the right decision, but every time it scarred me because I knew what they were going back to.

There were beautiful moments with the girls in our care: talking to them about their value and worth, teaching them why it is important to guard your heart and seeing them blossom and truly find peace. I loved hearing them sing at the top of their lungs. There was never a dull moment with pool outings, movie nights and trips to the ice cream shop.

Then there were “the five.” They were only in our care for a week. They were a joy to have, full of laughs and vibrant personalities, but it was the week itself that sticks out in my mind because it was a long one. It was physically draining. Every night that week resulted in a late night at the Home, which in turn meant arriving at my apartment at 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. I would wake up the next morning already feeling exhausted, but as soon as I arrived at the Home, it would fade away.

When I think of the month of July, I think of a reality TV show. I’m still trying to sound humorous when I say that, but it’s true—it was filled with drama: fighting, yelling, name calling, a few death threats and repeat. By the end of the month things had calmed down and the girls attended a two-week youth camp. Three of our girls grew in their faith. It was beautiful to note the change in them and the peace that now saturated them. 

Through it all, I have learned how you can still have faith and love to carry on, even in the darkest of places. I have seen hope restored when it has been shattered into a million pieces and I have gained a new strength as well as knowledge and insight to fight this injustice. 

Click here to see what Jessica is doing with ER to help orphans and vulnerable children.

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Tanuja Shares Her Journey of Rescue and Restoration

(Nov. 15, 2017)

KI Nepal works toward a society free from human trafficking and violence against women and children, while supporting changes to the poor economic, social and educational status faced by at-risk women and girls. Following is the story of a courageous young woman who was rescued by this ER partner.

My name is Tanuja Sherpa*. I am 19 years old and am from the Hill Region of Nepal. Like many teenagers, I dreamed of an ambitious life, but in reality I was living a life with a lot of hardship. My family was poor and could not meet my needs, and I was frustrated because they could not offer me decent clothes, school books or food.

One day I ran away from home. I came to a city where I found myself alone and nobody could help me. I searched for employment for a long time and finally found work as a front desk hostess in a restaurant.

But instead of working in the restaurant, I was assigned to go with customers to a hotel and talk with them. In the beginning l enjoyed my work because l received a variety of food and clothes. But gradually the owner of the hotel tried to sexually exploit me and other girls. Because of his behavior, I became very sad and emotionally upset.

But there was no other choice for us to survive. I was compelled to be used as a sex worker day after day. Smoking and drug use became habitual. Often I was caught by police for the sex work, but my boss always paid the fine and had me released from custody.

The exploitation only got worse. I slept with many men, contracted sexual disease and often was sick. Life was really hard – I can’t event put it into words except to say that it was hellish.

Over time, I became very weak. Unhappy with me and my earnings, my boss began to pressure me to leave his hotel. But what else could I do? I began to think there were no other options and tried to commit suicide on several occasions.

One day I noticed a woman watching me. When there was no one else around, she approached me and explained she was from KI Nepal. We talked for a few minutes and she told me, “There is still hope for your life, if you are willing to give up your bad practices and change from your inner heart. We will provide you some skills to survive the future.” Right then, I decided to go to KI Nepal’s safe home.

Initially my life at the KI Nepal home was a struggle – I was aggressive at times, introverted at others. Physically, however, I got proper treatment and was able to recover from sexually transmitted disease. And through KI Nepal I got to know about unconditional love. I was impressed. Day by day, I found great hope and joy in my life. Through the moral lessons and loving environment they provided in the safe home, I was able to leave behind smoking, drugs and other destructive habits. I learned about true life change from the staff. I now have great hope and joy in my life.

During this time I also learned tailoring skills. While I was in the safe home, I worked every day on improving myself. Now I am in school with the support of KI Nepal, and I find myself very blessed. I am so grateful to KI Nepal for helping me!

*Name changed to provide confidentiality

We Need Your Help!

ER is launching six initiatives fight human trafficking. These include funding a border station to rescue girls, providing life- and job-skills, training staff and volunteers, producing an anti-trafficking documentary, creating and distributing anti-trafficking curriculum, and hosting a vision trip to develop awareness. Your donation represents a simple and powerful way to restore women like Tanuja.

Giving is easy. Click here to access our donate page. Your gift is tax-deductible and ER will provide you with a receipt for tax purposes. To donate in Canada, click here.

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Elegant Fashions Provides Jobs for Trafficked Girls

(October 5, 2017)

Many people are angry at the injustice of human trafficking. Katie Martinez is doing something awesome in response.

By Tim Fausch, ER Communications

As a farm girl in Iowa, Katie Martinez didn’t set out to help human trafficking victims. Inspired to pursue fashion by watching her mom sew, her life was planned out. In 2005 she would leave the farm at 18 years old, attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, get a great job and enjoy a fulfilling career designing and selling upscale garments that would elegantly adorn women.

But then came a defining moment during a world affairs lecture when she first heard how women were were being horribly victimized by human traffickers.

“I was heartbroken,” Katie said. “I was very angry and prayed that one day I would do something to help these women.”

In the meantime, she had to finish college by taking night courses, work a day job to pay the bills and volunteer as an unpaid intern to gain experience to get her foot into the fashion world. Her first internship was not even remotely glamorous.

“For my first internship, I did a lot of coffee and lunch runs, handled UPS boxes and did a lot of data entry. The environment was very tense, lots of pressure. I was always on high alert.”

Through it all, Katie learned a lot about fashion and business. “It was a lot of hustle for five years.”

While in school, she met Israel Martinez and they got married. In September 2010, at the age of 24, she launched Elegantees publicly after a couple of months of ramping up. Israel worked full time to sustain the family while Katie poured herself into designing and production.

She remembered the defining moment during her world affairs lecture and felt fortunate she had not experienced the abuse of human trafficking.

“Part of the reason I wanted to launch a company was to give the profits to fight human trafficking. As a young woman in New York, I found myself in vulnerable positions many times, and I wondered why I was never taken advantage of when so many women were.”

Six Years Without Profits

If launching Elegantees was just a matter of passion and creativity, Katie would have cruised to immediate success. Instead, she had to learn first-hand about sourcing materials, manufacturing, inventory, cashflow and more. She went without a paycheck for six years.

Elegantees was gaining a good reputation among buyers, but it wasn’t making any money. Her dream of providing profits to help trafficking victims was going unfilled.

Despite the challenges, Katie maintained her commitment and determination. Fortunately, she was introduced to a “freedom fighter” and ER partner who was championing the cause of trafficking victims in Nepal. He had passion and a plan that meshed with her vision for Elegantees.

The plan was simple, yet hard. If Katie would hire girls rescued from trafficking in Nepal, then they could earn income, gain self-confidence and experience real hope for their lives.

So Elegantees made the shift, opened a sewing center in Nepal and hired trafficking victims as seamstresses, not knowing if it would work. It was a sizable gamble because the Martinez family was growing with the birth of a boy and girl. They now faced the strains balancing work and family life.

It took a couple years of training and production fine-tuning, but this year Elegantees became profitable enough for Israel to leave his job and join Katie full time. He handles customer service, photo shoots, promotion and helps with design choices.

Katie’s sister Kelli also helps by providing financial management and expanding their retail business. Currently 35 retailers stock Elegantees garments accounting for about two-thirds of Elegantees’ income. The rest of the sales are generated online.

The Dream – Jobs For All Victims

Today Elegantees is approaching $300,000 in sales and employs 14 women. They plan to hire up to six more seamstresses in the months ahead, depending on how fast sales grow. Each sewer earns double or more of the minimum wage – a livable wage in Nepal. Every hire means an entire family can escape poverty and is less at risk of being trafficked.

Katie’s dream is to one day hire 300 seamstresses, helping employ all the girls being rescued by her partner organization in Nepal. She credits her freedom fighter partner with providing her continued inspiration.

“He opened my eyes to using my business as a way to employ the girls. Every time I talk with him I get excited at what we can do to help.”

Fashion Designs and Mission Resonating With Women

Katie’s design inspiration comes from combining her farm upbringing with her experience in the high-fashion corners of New York City.

“As women, we want to feel beautiful, but you don’t have to wear extra layers to look stylish. Our typical buyer is someone who is a younger or older mom looking for modern clothing options, something easy to wear for work that is still fashionable.”

Katie does nearly all of the pattern work and pre-production work for the lines, although she is now able to have samples sewn in Nepal to speed production.

Designing is a huge task. Elegantees  collections provide 50 unique options. And the collections are refreshed twice a year, once for spring summer and and again for fall/winter.

She summarizes her design strategy like this on her Website:

“I designed Elegantees because shopping was hard. I needed tops that were pretty and comfortable, and with proper coverage. Having spent my life both on a farm in Iowa, and in the Fashion District of New York City, I’ve seen two extremes in the way women dress. A common approach is to avoid fashion altogether and wear the same tee and jeans/leggings daily. The other extreme is where there is so much emphasis on fashion that it becomes an identity. Elegantees is for the woman who seeks to find a balance between fashion and life, with a tee that looks like more than a tee.”

Buyers are responding to not only the style of Katie’s designs, but to Elegantees ethical mission.

“A lot of people who know about our mission want to help. For them, it’s more a clothing choice. It gives me joy to know know they really love the clothes too.”

Extreme Response is committed to women’s empowerment and works with partners in Nepal, Ecuador and South Africa who are changing the lives of human trafficking victims through rescue, restoration, counseling and skills development.

Want to help provide jobs for girls being restored from human trafficking in Nepal? Click here to visit the Elegantees Website. Elegantees offers free shipping, returns and exchanges on orders placed in the U.S. Click here to contact Elegantees.

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Visit With Trafficking Victims Has Big Impact on Teens

(Jan. 2, 2017)

By Tim Fausch, ER Communications

Like many young teens in North America, Mallory and Rachel worry about their next big school exam or what’s on the lunch menu. Human trafficking – and its despicable impact – was not something they had confronted.

That changed when the two Indiana teens traveled as part of an Extreme Response Christmas outreach team to Quito, Ecuador. The girls and their mothers traveled 2,800 miles in order to share the joy of Christmas with vulnerable people.

They were among several women who visited ER partner Dunamis, which cares for the victims of sexual slavery. The visit opened the eyes of all of the women. It had a deep impact on Mallory and Rachel as they came face-to-face with girls their own age who had suffered horribly at the hands of traffickers.

“When I talked with the girls, I couldn’t help but imagine what they had gone through,” Mallory said. “It made me sick. I’m definitely grateful for having a family and being safe.”

Rachel echoed Mallory initial reaction and said it gave her a new perspective on her life.

“It made me sick to think of all the things they’ve gone through, the abuse and all the struggles they faced,” Rachel said. “To think that I think that a math test is horrible, but they’ve gone through tons worse. It opened my eyes.”

Rachel’s mother, Marla, said her heart ached for the victims.

“I was just hurt that these young girls are being forced into something they are not ready for,” Marla said. “There was one girl who was forced to be a mom at the age of my daughter and she wasn’t ready for that type of responsibility and was growing up way too fast. It was heartbreaking to see that.

“I think it’s really important that we instill in our daughters about their sexuality and waiting until they are old enough for that, that it is a gift and needs to take place at the right time,” she added.

Mallory’s mother, Johnna, said the interaction with the girls from Dunamis caused her both emotional pain and deep appreciation.

“I cried a lot. Seeing a 12-year-old girl and 14-year-old girl with a child, it was hard to imagine as a mom having a child who would have to endure that kind of stuff,” Johnna said.

“One thing I really took from (our time at Dunamis) was that these girls don’t have anyone to fight for them. They don’t have anyone who will stand up for what right and for justice. They don’t have a father who will protect them.

“It made me really grateful for having a family that will fight for them and for a husband who is a police officer who is trying to do the right thing back in the states by fighting for justice to keep girls like this safe.”

Rachel said she would tell her friends about how the girls at Dunamis displayed resiliency and hope.

“I’ll share these girls’ stories and how it opened my eyes,” she said. “Even though they did not have much, still they were grateful and said ‘thank you’ with smiles on their faces.”

“There were girls who had the brightest smiles and were very sweet, “Mallory added. “I’ll let people know that if they don’t do well on a test or forget their lunch, it’s not the end of the world. There are much, much bigger problems.”

The teens were so moved by their time with the girls at Dunamis that they hand-made 13 bracelets for them, recruiting other Christmas Outreach team members to help so that every girl would receive a bracelet. They returned to Dunamis to personally hand out the bracelets.

“The purpose to me for making the bracelets for the girls was to show them love,” Rachel said. “I felt that that was a good way for the girls to stay connected with us even when we are so far away. I wanted the bracelets to be a way for them to remember us and know that I am praying for them.”

“We wanted to let the girls know that they are loved and that they have value and worth,” Mallory added.

Dunamis is among many ER partners that reach out to women who have been abused, abandoned or suppressed. These women, often young girls who need rescue, recovery and restoration.

ER is committed to fighting for women’s empowerment by providing love, education, skills and opportunities. We have seen first-hand that women unfairly bear burden of poverty worldwide and seek to change this in order to give women – and their children – hope for their futures.

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Rooftop Revelation: Michigan Man Torn Up by Girls’ Tearful Stories of Abuse, Love, Restoration

Nepal Roof TopPhoto Credits: Dave Smith

By Danny Cox, Kensington Church

(Dec. 14, 2013)

DDanny Coxanny Cox joined a team from Kensington Church in Michigan that traveled 15,000 miles to a remote area of Nepal to visit an Extreme Response partner. They weren’t there to sightsee. The team journeyed to see the reality of human trafficking first-hand, determine out how to respond and share this important story.

I have heard it said that once you start to despise your own sin, then your life can truly be transformed.I was having that thought as I was setting up the audio gear to help capture a few trafficking stories of young women in Nepal. We were perched on the third floor of a safe home for the women in a city outside of Katmandu. I was excited to be on this trip, but to be honest, I had struggled to fully commit to going.

Just a few weeks before we left for Nepal I almost backed out of the trip. I was feeling incredibly uneasy and was wrestling with the decision.

Nepal GirlsI suspected it had to do with the many years of an adoption process my family and I have experienced from 2005 until the present. In 2005, my wife and I went to Honduras to a small fishing village on the northern coast to serve at an all-girls orphanage. While there, we fell deeply in love with the girls.

But three young teenagers in particular captured our hearts and we felt a call to make them part of our permanent family. It took four long years and many miraculous events, but they finally came to live with us in Michigan.

These past 10 years have been beautiful, yet difficult. There is so much hurt and pain mixed with hope and love. Over time, we learned the devastating events our daughters had experienced at the orphanage for many years.

I didn’t realize how much of the struggle and pain I had locked away in my heart as an act of self-protection. It hit me as I was sitting on the roof of that third-story safe home in Nepal listening to the story of one of girls who was rescued from being trafficked.

Nepal Girls ShoesWe were not allowed to be in the room listening to the stories. These girls had been through so much already; the last thing they needed was another unknown man sitting in a tiny room hearing their heart-wrenching stories.

So I was outside the room with earphones to monitor the sound levels and make sure everything was technically correct. Before the interview started, I decided to set my mind for what I was about to hear. I found a powerful story that described the need to receive mercy in order to understand what mercy truly meant.

As I finished reading, the interview started. I listened intently to this innocent little voice of a very young, beautiful little child talk about the horrendous circumstance of her own family selling her into slavery.

About halfway through the interview, perched high about this little city, looking out over Nepal in a little shady spot on this roof of the safe home, the floodgates opened in my heart.

I began to weep. I wept not only for this little angel, but also for my own journey. I wept for the depraved nature of these men who pervert innocent lives. I wept because of all the years we have spent fighting against the same things for my daughters. And I wept for my daughters and all of their pain of being orphaned and abused.

Nepal DoorwayAs I wept, I became angry. I became angry at the evil of our world. I became angry that young lives are being so badly distorted and harmed on this earth. At that moment I could hear in my earphones this precious child receiving comforting words in another language that felt familiar and true. Somehow, the presence of hope prevailed. The interview was over. I walked into the room after the people had left. Our team was wrecked.

We had two more interviews to record that day. Though there was incredible darkness in each story, there was also a powerful sense of light. In each story there is a remarkable discovery and a transformation from hopelessness to hope.

Each one of these girls has become a special treasure. Each of them is now a bright light for all to see. My hope is that we all become wrecked to help us see our own sin, and bring light into the darkness. These girls have inspired a whole new spark in our hearts. We are forever grateful.

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Shristi’s Story: Orphaned, Trafficked, Rescued

Rescued From Human TraffickingI was very happy because I thought I had finally found someone who loved me enough to take care of me.

(Feb. 22, 2015)

My name is Shristi*. I was three years old when my parents died. My uncle and his wife raised me alongside their three kids. They could not afford to send me to school. My aunt wasn’t fond of me and put her own kids first.

At age 16, my uncle and my aunt informed me I would marry a man 10 years older than me. I could say little in protest to their decision. I had no voice.

The first few months of my married life were great. Although my husband would be gone for long periods, he would always return with a nice paycheck to run our household.

One day, I had some stomach problems. My husband said he would take me to India for treatment. I was very happy because I thought I had finally found someone who loved me enough to take care of me.

The next day we headed to India. We were at one of the border crossings when some young ladies stopped us for questioning. My husband’s behavior started changing.

During the questioning I learned the ladies were KI Nepal staff doing surveillance against human trafficking. They told me my husband had already taken another women to India, claiming her to be his wife.

I was devastated. Suddenly, his travel and money made sense.

I had nowhere to go. The KI Nepal staff told me they provide safe homes and skills development trainings to girls like me. I was so happy to go.

I stayed for six months and received sewing training and other life skills. KI Nepal helped me to set up a business that included a sewing machine and some seed to start my own tailoring shop.

Today, I’m living a dignified and self-sustaining life back in my own community in western Nepal.

 *Name changed to provide confidentiality

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