By Kristen Bracy
I first learned about human trafficking in college, at a conference with the college ministry I was a part of, which was under the leadership of my amazing mentor and friend, Lori Taylor. I still vividly remember sitting on the floor in that conference session and feeling this incredible sense of purpose and mission come over me. Up to that point, I wanted my future to look like something different every day! I was constantly struggling with finding my place, my passion, and my purpose in God’s kingdom. But as I walked out of that session, I knew that I had just encountered God. I knew in that moment that I had just learned about something to which I could not turn a blind eye. I could not hear about such an incredible injustice in our world and simply walk away from it. My path was set.
At that time, I thought human trafficking was an only an international issue, and that it was something that happened somewhere else, to other people. It wasn’t until I began to volunteer with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (check them out, they’re awesome!) that I began to realize that human trafficking happens here in the United States. A LOT. I learned in those early experiences that human trafficking is a worldwide problem; it is an injustice that touches every gender, every age group, every culture, every nation, and every religion. I learned that we have a lot of work to do to combat such an egregious violation of human rights, not just abroad but in our own country. It was the weight of this realization that propelled me to dislodge my amazing, supportive husband and myself from everything we knew to move across the country and pursue the opportunity to further entrench myself in the fight against human trafficking.
There are many ways to serve in this fight. For me, it has been through research, training, awareness, and serving victims of sex trafficking. I work in the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research at Arizona State University with one of the most brilliant women I know, Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz. We conduct research mainly on the issue of sex trafficking and all of the elements that facilitate it, including the traffickers themselves, the demand for sex trafficking/the buyers, and interventions that best support and serve victims of sex trafficking. We conduct research on different populations that might experience sex trafficking victimization, including homeless young adults, native populations, children in the child welfare system—among others. I am also pursuing my master’s in social work, which enables me to take part in the healing process of individuals who have experienced sex trafficking through the facilitation of psychoeducation groups.
Our office also seeks to meet the needs of both victims and survivors within our community. We achieve this through mentoring programs for women trying to get out of “the life,” through social enterprise opportunities, and through a bi-annual pop-up drop-in center, in which we partner with more than thirty different local agencies to provide everything from a hot shower and meal, to medical services, legal services, housing services, mental health services, and more. We also conduct trainings, and work with, agencies and legislators to develop new policies and procedures that would protect and serve victims of trafficking in our state.
Human trafficking is the social injustice of our time. It is an issue that is overwhelmingly massive, yet I do believe it is an injustice that we can and will put an end to. The church has a huge role in the abolition of this incredible darkness. We must find smart ways to contribute in our cities, in our nation, and across the world. That could be as simple as raising awareness, allowing organizations to utilize your building and facilities for a drop-in center, or raising funds or donations for a local organization that you could partner with. It could be by coming together as a community to identify gifts that could be utilized to support victims and survivors in their journey to rebuilding their lives. Do you have people in your community that are counselors or social workers? What about business owners? What about those that can teach a trade? The question is, How can we use what God has uniquely gifted us with in order to love and serve others the way that Jesus taught us to? How can we love with no strings attached? How can we pour ourselves out on behalf of those who can never repay us? That’s the gospel. That’s the fight against human trafficking.
Kristen Bracy, MA, is the associate director of research implementation at the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, Arizona State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.