thoughts from Jessica Pittman, Founder
There are things in this world that are dark and evil, and we know that human trafficking is one of them. For me, as for many others, we engage in this work because we feel a sense of desperation on behalf of those it affects. We are desperate on their behalf and we are surely desperate that it doesn’t happen to us or people we love. For some people who I care for and deeply respect, it’s already happened. We are desperate to see it end and to see healing, hope, and freedom come meet humanity where there has been much pain.
Over the years, after the initial horror of trafficking wears off a bit, it can be difficult to convey the same sense of desperation. We as leaders sometimes watch as we see others using sensationalism to manipulate or mislead people. This can be intentional or completely unintentional. It presents a false view of the reality of trafficking. It propels myths forward, making it more difficult for people who are trapped in tragically “normal”, non-glorified ways to get help or to feel like their situations are worth addressing. We see horrible images, hear dramatic stories, and are asked to respond. We are sometimes left recovering from images and stories of trauma that may not be real or helpful. And eventually, we may grow numb.
The place we find ourselves in now is a world full of desperation in a way many of us haven’t experienced in our lifetime. I confess I don’t know what it feels like to be desperate in the way that many of the people we work with have been. However, I have felt desperate. I think most of us have. The most recent time I felt this was this summer when I watched my 5 year old son fall from a tree house and land on his back on my watch. I felt a sense of panic I haven’t felt before, not knowing if he would be okay or if his injuries would be life long. Even in the midst of my primary concern for his life and health, I felt conflicted, uncertain as to what to do next that would help him the most. I felt a flood of guilt, thinking I should have done something to prevent the fall. The wave of emotion was a fairly quick experience for me, and it was a but tiny sliver of what it may feel like to live with or grow up in trauma. Many of those we work with – and maybe this is your story today – you grew up without enough food in your house, or without a real home. Without the protection of a love that looks out for your best interest. You may have been surrounded by chaos and stuck a community that takes advantage of vulnerability instead of protects it. Perhaps love has been connected to pain and abuse.
This month, I was listening in on a panel, and a young person who was a survivor of sex trafficking shared her perspective on the current health crisis. She shared how it’s impacted her and her peers who are also survivors, who are in the welfare system. She shared that during this time, the most important thing has been to find one person in the system that she can trust and build a connection with. She says that her friends don’t always find that. She says they all know there are resources out there, but they don’t always connect well with any of their assigned workers (even though their workers may be doing all they can). Sometimes their workers don’t know how to access what they need. When they need basic help (food, housing, bus tickets, a phone, etc), their requests often get lost in a long chain of people and takes so long that many just give up waiting and go back to the streets. (shared with permission.)
They go back because they don’t know how else to get what they need, and they feel desperate.
In this past year, amid the many twists and turns, and we have had several organizations reach out to us for support for high risk youth. In my work across the state with PACT (Preventing and Addressing Child Trafficking), I am hearing many counties identify the lack of people or safe places who can help these youth and reach them, especially when they are high risk. Some aren’t sure what to do with kids who don’t identify as specifically as victims. Many don’t have a Central Valley Justice Coalition who will take their referrals, assess, start a mentoring process, and put together a safety or educational plan. They don’t have a nonprofit running prevention programs for teen boys and girls. The don’t have a team of experts offering parents and caregivers live workshops or recorded classes and resources for online safety.
I am proud and also humbled that our organization can offer this gift to the community. That we can step in and kids can receive help and have an advocate quickly. That we are not bound by red tape, and we can assess needs and respond. And we will share, when appropriate to anyone who wants to know, that we do it in the name of Jesus on behalf of his people, who truly do care.
Not to try to fool you all – we don’t always get it right. We don’t always respond as quickly as we would like and this fall we quickly reached out capacity and had to turn away clients due to our capacity. We will absolutely always be learning, trying to do it better, and we are beyond grateful to our partners in the work who fill in the pieces we cannot provide.