Blog by Helen Merjos
Every 30 seconds someone becomes a victim of human trafficking. It’s the fastest growing crime globally, affecting every nation, economic structure and has found its way into our neighborhoods. It generates over $150 billion per year in the United States alone. There are millions of people being trafficked right before our eyes – from our streets and classrooms through to our nail salons, restaurants, as well as massage parlors, unbeknownst to us.
The “Can You See Me” campaign and annual global “Walk For Freedom” (WFF) developed by A21 (A21’s mission is to abolish human trafficking in the 21st century), and exists to bring awareness to the millions of men, women, and children trapped in slavery across the world. Awareness turns into action when we equip the general public to recognize signals of human trafficking so they can report suspected scenarios. One case that comes to mind is the A21 story of “Ella”, who is an American girl who had been in the foster care system for years – family after family with no stability in her life. When she turned 18 she was too old to stay in the system. She was broken, hurt and all alone with nowhere to go. One day a woman approached her asking if she needed any help or food. “Ella” thought this woman was genuine and really cared for her, so when the woman suggested her boyfriend could take good care of her, “Ella” trusted her. While everything seemed OK at first, the woman’s boyfriend one day told “Ella” she owed him money for everything he had done for her. He began trafficking her from city to city. One day “Ella” met with a man who she thought was paying for a service. He turned out to be a law enforcement officer who offered to help, and although she now realized the risk, she decided to trust him and told him her story. The officer connected her with A21 and her trafficker was arrested. She was provided with safe housing and services to start rebuilding her life. “Ella” did not ask for this life through the foster care system, nor do millions of others that are trafficked through false job offers, modeling, actual family members trafficking them – the list of reasons could be endless.
My burden to help trafficked victims triggered over a decade ago, but became stronger more recently upon learning Virginia was ranked the 15th highest state for human trafficking cases in our nation! This also includes astounding statistics of children being taken in Coastal VA. Every year there are an estimated 200,000 American children identified as being at high risk for trafficking into the sex industry. The average age is 12-14yrs, but infants and toddlers are also being taken. I personally felt compelled to step up what I was doing to help the homeless, and expand into the human trafficking arena to somehow help those on the ground in our local area – so I became a certified human trafficking victim advocate with Virginia Beach Justice Initiative (VBJI). VBJI is the local organization on the ground here in Coastal VA that works with authorities to identify and assist victims of human trafficking.
I remember not knowing what to expect the first time I entered our local prison and the jail doors slammed shut behind me. VBJI holds a course in jail to identify women who may have been trafficked. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they have truly lost their freedom until they literally find themselves behind bars. That day was a turnaround day for me – coming face to face with women from my very own city who had been betrayed by people they believed loved them was shocking. Once seen – I could not unsee. I now had to start helping create awareness, education and raising funds to assist these victims, put their traffickers behind bars and help put an end to the most heinous crime of all. Although it seems a daunting task, the experience of that day continues to play in my head and heart and the Lord impressed upon me to go after the ONE. Collectively as a community, we can lock arms, because we are better together – we can stand firm together and determine enough is enough.
Your chance to get involved is coming up on October 19, 2019, with A21’s annual Walk For Freedom (WFF), encompassing the 7 cities of Coastal VA. The A21 WFF is a silent walk to raise awareness of human trafficking and will be held locally in Norfolk, VA, where the largest Naval Base in the world is located. Hundreds of participants from the local community show up every year and we are given a police escort through the streets of downtown Norfolk. Our local A21 WFF joins forces globally with over 30,000 WFF participants, collectively taking millions of steps for freedom during a 24hr period in cities across the world. There is hope and power in numbers and we need your help.
If you’d like to know more about getting involved in eradicating human trafficking in our lifetime, A21’s WFF is a good place to start. Whether you are local or living on the other side of America, or even the other side of the globe – save the date October 19, 2019, and check out A21.org for more information. Locally check out our social media links A21WFFCoastalVA or email us at A21WFFCoastalVA@outlook.com
Father God, please help us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to each ONE that is lost and heartbroken as a result of human trafficking. Open our eyes and ears to those you would have us help, and let us be a voice for the voiceless and bring hope, freedom, and justice in Jesus mighty name. AMEN!