In 2015, Brianna Saxer was a massage therapist in Geneva, Illinois, volunteering to help women recover from trauma through her craft, always feeling a pull to “do more” for those in need. While many of us think of people “in need” as homeless, in major need of food and resources, or addicts, Brianna knew of another group that needed support that most people didn’t want to talk about - sexually exploited women and children.
Brianna became aware of human trafficking in 2005 and felt a sense of urgency to help. As a single woman with no children, she had a flexible schedule that allowed her to participate as a street support volunteer, but once she added raising a child to her resume, Brianna knew late nights and early mornings ministering to women on the street would no longer be sustainable for her family.
Yet she felt a calling to help.
Brianna then met Simone Halpin, Executive Director of Naomi’s House, which offers hope and healing to survivors of sex trafficking. As a member of Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois, Brianna was familiar with ministries that supported the victims of commercial sexual exploitation, but, at the time, there were no ministries in the area that provided strategic plans for long-term success, and purposeful support from trauma-informed licensed professional counselors. This is the void Naomi's House was seeking to fill.
Simone explained she was on a mission to find property in the Chicagoland area to provide safe housing for trafficked women in the form of a 15-month residential program. While the thought of 24,000 women being trafficked in the Chicagoland area alone was daunting, Simone told Brianna of the eight beds they were hopeful to care for and help in the healing process.
Brianna’s heart ached to help in any way possible, and Simone knew exactly where to place this compassionate woman.
Even though she had zero experience with residential care, Brianna knew she could “hold down the fort” with proper training. A catch-all position of care, Brianna spent her time developing relationships with the women in the house, providing a helping hand, one-on-one discipling, and most importantly a listening ear free from judgement.
“I started as a shift supervisor,” explained Brianna, “a support team in the home for the residents.”
Fast forward a couple of years and Brianna is now lead shift supervisor and part of Naomi's House senior leadership team.
While chatting with Brianna about her experience at Naomi's House, I asked her what she wanted people to know about human trafficking.
"There are so many misunderstandings," said Brianna, "starting with the thought that trafficking doesn't happen in "nice" suburban neighborhoods."
Brianna went on to highlight some common misconceptions about human trafficking...
No. 1 - Trafficked individuals are brought over from other countries.
Why this is false:
In the United states there are plenty of vulnerable people to prey on. Transporting people is risky and expensive, making “home grown” coercion more cost-effective and desirable.
No. 2 - Women in trafficking “choose” to be in that life.
Why this is false:
The average age of a trafficked woman is 13-years old when the “grooming” process begins. Adolescents and teenagers are vulnerable and teaching educators to acknowledge the signs of students being quietly lured into a life of exploitation is crucial in identifying young girls who need immediate help.
Download, print, and share this flyer called "How to Identify the Signs of Human Trafficking".
More red flags to look for:
- Suddenly having material possessions that a student would not normally have access to (designer brands, expensive jewelry, makeovers)
- Possessing multiple phones
- A recent tattoo that they don't want to talk about (girls are often branded with a pretty symbol, not a bar code.)
No. 3 - Children are often kidnapped and turned into prostitutes.
Why this is false:
While every story is different, traffickers do not want to draw attention to themselves, so abducting girls is bad press. Young girls are often romanced into the life, bought gifts, clothing, and given a sense of security and love that is manipulative and false.
Addiction is also a huge part of trafficking. Many girls are force-fed drugs to cope with what they are going through, in fact, many are "roofied" using a date rape drug called flunitrazepam, making them drowsy and disoriented the first few times they are exploited so they are less likely to remember what happened.
What should I do if I suspect a young girl or woman is being exploited?
First, call the National human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.
Then, call the local authorities.
Fast facts about commercial sexual exploitation:
* It is estimated that up to 24,000 woman and girls are sexually trafficked — bought and sold for sex — each year in the Chicagoland area. Law enforcement, FBI victim’s specialists, and social workers who work with victims all agree that the biggest need for women “coming out of the life” of sexual exploitation is long-term housing and professional care. In addition to a safe place to live, survivors of sex trafficking need a comprehensive approach to healing, case management, and life-skills.
Victims of sex trafficking also experience an increased level of other systematic obstacles that make each woman vulnerable to relapsing back into the life. These struggles often serve as additional issues that she must overcome in order to live out a healthy life. Our experience as care providers show the following trends from the women we have served at NH:
100% :: Suffered childhood abuse
100% :: Has struggled with substance abuse addiction
100% :: Has a criminal record
100% :: Lacks basic life skills
100% :: Has been diagnosed with mental illness
88% :: Came to NH without medical insurance
63% :: Came to NH without an ID
63% :: Had more than one pimp
50% :: Had been branded (tattooed) by her pimp
50% :: Was lured into sex trafficking as a minor
50% :: Experienced homelessness
How you can help support exploited women start a new life:
#1 - Educate yourself about sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Naomi's House offers a virtual Human Trafficking 101 training (coming up on February 2, 2021, at 6 PM). In this training, Naomi's House staff will help attendees understand:
- What is commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) or human trafficking
- Where does this issue take place and who are the victims
- What happens to a victim when they have survived CSE
- What can you do as part of the anti-trafficking movement
#2 - Be a part of community advocacy by speaking at rotary clubs, churches, and organizations.
Awareness is key in fighting the issues of human trafficking, so the more you can bring awareness into your own social circles, the better. No need to travel to the White House, be active where you are. If you're not comfortable with public speaking, Naomi's House offers trained volunteers to speak to groups of all sizes.
#3 - Host a "shower".
Gather goods for women at Naomi’s House while educating friends about CSE with a "shower". A registry of needs for the residents can be found on Zola.com. Gift cards also empower the women to shop for themselves, which builds dignity and independence.
(Gift cards to consider: Walmart, Target, Home Goods, Kohls, McDonalds, Cheesecake Factory, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts, and can be mailed directly to Naomi’s House, PO Box 515, Wheaton, IL 60187.)
#4 - Be a "tour guide" at Naomi's House.
A low-key intro to trafficking support, driving residents to medical appointments, work, and school gives volunteers an opportunity to help while providing a safe space to get to know the women in the program.
#5 - Apply to be a mentor.
A long-term commitment, the role of mentoring requires meeting with residents on a consistent basis to become a positive and safe element in recovery and healing.
Interested? Email NH staff at email@example.com
#6 - Donate to help restore the dignity of women at Naomi's House who deserve a new start.
It's so important that we as human beings are compassionate about where women of all backgrounds and experiences are at – not where we want them to be for our own level of comfort.