This Isn’t Love: Teaching Youth How to Avoid Manipulation

This Isn’t Love: Teaching Youth How to Avoid Manipulation

i love ur smile. That’s all it took to capture Ava’s* attention: one 4-word comment on her selfie. 

She tapped the stranger’s name – Noah. His profile picture featured his deep umber eyes, but there was a brightness to them, a hint of laughter or mischief – she couldn’t tell which yet. 

She sent him a private message. Butterflies flapped their wings in her stomach when the 3 little dots popped up that meant he was typing. 

As they chatted, Ava learned she and Noah had a lot in common. They both were failing math and had detention for skipping school before. They both grew up in a struggling family in poor neighborhoods. They both had parents who were at work more than they were home. 
 
After a week of Facebook messaging, the two swapped phone numbers. 
A week later, they were texting and video chatting every day. Each time Ava heard the ping of a notification or the ring of a phone call, her heart fluttered in excitement. 
 
Ava cherished Noah’s attention and support. She confided in him: 
Ava started multiple fights at school – one of which left another student with a broken nose – and was sent to juvenile detention. She stayed there for months and heard little from her parents.  

Feeling isolated and alone, she wondered if they even wanted her anymore. These feelings lingered even after her release. She told Noah all about it.

Noah said her parents didn’t care about what happened to her, but that Ava shouldn’t worry too much; soon she’d be 18, and she could leave them behind forever – like he did with his parents. 

“I’ll take you to the most expensive restaurant in the city that day,” Noah promised. “You can have whatever you want.”  

Sometimes people you trust use your vulnerability to exploit you.
Lakeith

Age 15, Real Talk Participant

Back then, Ava didn’t know Noah was grooming her to be trafficked.

She didn’t know that he targeted her for exploitation because the caption on her selfie read: “this is what it looks like to get out of juvie!” She didn’t know that waves of compliments aren’t love.

She didn’t know that Noah was intentionally sowing seeds of doubt about her parents. She didn’t know that isolating isn’t love. 

Ava didn’t know the promise of gifts would make her feel like she owed him something in return. Ava didn’t know that expensive presents aren’t love. 

Donate today to help teens like Ava spot the early warning signs of manipulation. 

Like all of us, kids crave love and belonging – things groomers pretend to offer.

Youth who feel isolated, who are involved in the juvenile justice system, who long for connection, are highly vulnerable to manipulation. Once traffickers build enough trust, they use force, fraud, and/or coercion to compel victims into exploitation. 

But because of people like YOU supporting UAHT’s prevention work, youth like Ava can realize the truth before it is too late. 

After being released from detention, Ava needed to go to secondary school: an alternative, temporary learning academy that juvenile offenders must attend before returning to regular school. 

 At Secondary School, Ava attended Real Talk: UAHT’s support group for at-risk youths.

Ava trusted very few people, especially adults. But UAHT’s facilitator, Taylor, seemed cool enough. 

He brought snacks Ava hadn’t gotten to eat since before she was in detention. He listened to the teens when they talked about their difficult experiences and didn’t judge them. 

UAHT facilitates Real Talk where vulnerable youth are often overlooked: secondary schools, juvenile detention centers, homeless youth shelters, afterschool programs, and much more.

In fact, some of Ava’s classmates recognized Taylor from when they were still in detention! What’s more, they liked the support group so much that they chose to retake it. 

Your group is the only one we really pay attention to! I actually remember the stuff you tell us.
Aracely

Age 14, Real Talk Participant

Ava learned a lot during the 10 sessions of Real Talk.

She learned how to use deep breathing to calm anxiety, how what she ate could affect her mood, and even some fun yoga poses! 

She started bonding with her fellow classmates over their shared experiences and the vulnerability they showed during the group. Her math grade started to improve, too! 

After 8 sessions, Ava finally built up the courage to tell her parents about how lonely she felt, and they planned to spend more time together. 

But the most important lesson Ava learned was how to spot manipulation. 

Taylor told the group that traffickers often find their targets on social media. They look for kids who post about being lonely, about troubles at home or in school. 

When Ava heard that, the classroom went cold. Could Noah be manipulating her? 

She didn’t want to believe it. No. It couldn’t be true. Noah was great! He talked to Ava every day and he told her she was pretty, that she deserved the best, that he wished he could take her away from all her troubles. 

As the weeks went on, Ava looked forward to each new Real Talk session. 

The more she learned about harmful versus healthy relationships, the more her doubts about Noah settled like a weight in her stomach. 

Donate today to help youth like Ava learn how to spot manipulation – BEFORE they are harmed!  

The trip to the mall was the final straw. 

Noah invited Ava to meet up with him. Knowing she wasn’t allowed to go out alone, Ava told him she couldn’t. He asked her every day … and every day, Ava tried to tell him no. She thought his persistence meant he liked her so much, he couldn’t wait to meet in person. 

Ava didn’t know that pressure isn’t love. 

Eventually, Ava’s parents were so impressed with her progress at secondary school that when she caved to Noah’s request and asked to go to the mall with “a group of friends from school,” they said yes. 
 
But instead of feeling pure happiness, Ava felt uneasy; after all, she was lying to her parents to go see Noah. Something felt … off. 
 
Yet Noah had been nothing but nice to her. Surely, she at least owed it to him to hang out? After all, he was there for her during some of her hardest days. Plus, Ava had never gone on a shopping spree before! 
 
One date couldn’t hurtright? 
 
Ava climbed into the metro bus by herself and headed to the mall to meet Noah in person for the first time. 

Give a gift today and empower youth like Ava to build the self-confidence and courage to reject manipulative dates.

It didn’t take long for Ava to realize Noah wasn’t what she thought he’d be.

For one, he belittled Ava’s happiness with Real Talk. As he paid for her new jacket, Noah told Ava the group was nothing but touchy-feely crap – that the facilitator was only in it for his paycheck. Ava’s shoulders sank and her face dropped … but she didn’t reply. 

It felt like whiplash to hear Noah abruptly switch from doting to critical. 

They were walking into Forever21 when Noah wouldn’t stop trash-talking Ava’s parents. He insisted their rules were ridiculous and unfair.

Ava’s stomach twisted, but she finally found her voice: “Don’t talk about them like that.” She confessed about her recent conversation with her parents, how they were working to rebuild their relationship. 

Noah went silent. Silent and angry. He shot a glare at her, and his eyes darkened. The light she saw before vanished. Ava clutched her shopping bags in a desperate grip. This wasn’t okay. Noah was a manipulator, just like she learned in Real Talk. 

Desperately wanting to leave, Ava saw a window when Noah went to the restroom. She dropped her bags and ran out of the mall. 

Please, be the reason youth like Ava can realize the truth before it’s too late! 

The next day at school, Ava told her teacher she wanted to speak with Taylor. 

As soon as she heard his voice over the phone, the dam broke. Ava told him everything. Taylor listened without interrupting. After Ava finished her harrowing story, Taylor told the young woman how proud he was of her courage. He would make sure she was safe. 

Taylor quickly relayed Ava’s situation to UAHT’s partners in local law enforcement and connected Ava to the juvenile probation department’s mental health program. Ava blocked Noah’s number. 

For the first time in a very long time, Ava felt seen. She felt heard. And, most of all, she felt hope. Things were going to get better. She was going to get better. 

I will try to dig myself out of my deep and dark cave, and this group helped me a lot.
Mai

Age 17, Real Talk Participant

Without emotional support, healthy life skills, and the knowledge to recognize red flags, youths can fall too deep into manipulation to escape. They will continue being targeted by people like Noah. That’s why UAHT’s prevention work is vital to the fight against human trafficking. 

With YOUR help, UAHT can walk alongside more young people like Ava while they navigate an uncertain world. You can ensure all youth get the attention and compassion they deserve, no matter their situation.

Please, donate to UAHT today to bring hope to vulnerable kids! 

*Ava’s story is inspired by a compilation of our Real Talk participants’ experiences.

Our Groundbreaking New Program: Housing Assistance For Trafficking Survivors

Our Groundbreaking New Program: Housing Assistance For Trafficking Survivors

Dear Friend,

We hear this story far too often: a human trafficking survivor completes the first part of their recovery and then, after all that hard work and courage, they have so few options moving forward that they must return to the Life. 

It’s frustrating. It’s tragic. And most of all, it’s preventable.

With your support, UAHT is launching a groundbreaking new program: housing for trafficking survivors.

 Vanessa suffered trauma all her life: from childhood sexual violence to homelessness to substance abuse. This made her vulnerable to trafficker recruitment, and she eventually became trapped in sex trafficking.

Vanessa finally escaped and got help from a local victim services program. She is working tirelessly to process her experiences and prepare for a new life free from exploitation. 

Vanessa will exit the program soonShe has a job ready and new tools for coping with trauma… but no place to stay.

Lack of housing stability can be a major reason why survivors stay in trafficking situations or fall back into them.

Because how do you leave if you have nowhere to go?

Just $35 can give a survivor of exploitation a session with a case manager who can help them find housing. And $150 can provide them with supplemental peer support groups to build their own network of care.

The clock was ticking for Vanessa. Luckily, she got into contact with UAHT before services ended. Our Program Manager, Anna, reached out to partnering agencies for help.

Vanessa will get rental and deposit assistance while she finds her footing in her new life. 

Nobody should have to worry about not having a roof over their head at the end of the day. And nobody who worked so hard to forge a path to recovery should have to retrace their steps.

Your generosity has helped UAHT develop a program for people like Vanessa.

With this in mind, UAHT will launch our own housing program for survivors of human trafficking in early 2021.

ALL survivors deserve a bright future and a place to call their own. But not all of them get the chance. It is critical that Houston build up more housing programs to ensure survivors like Vanessa can access the support they need when they need it.

 

Please, make your tax-deductible year-end gift today to help more survivors keep moving forward. Thank you for continuing to fight exploitation! 
One Statistic That Will Make You Drop Your Jaw

One Statistic That Will Make You Drop Your Jaw

Robin met her boyfriend on a dating app and was thrilled to be with someone who genuinely accepted her. 

They had a great time together until Robin was evicted from her apartment. 

Ready with a solution, the boyfriend suggested Robin move in with him for free. Then everything changed. 

After a couple weeks, the boyfriend demanded Robin “pay off the debt she owed him” by having sex with his friends.

At first, Robin refused, but was frightened when her boyfriend asserted he was secretly a police officer and could throw her in prison if she didn’t comply. 

As a trans woman, Robin was terrified of being thrown into prison – so she did what he said. 

Finally, Robin couldn’t take it anymore; she knew she needed to get away.  

To escape her trafficker, Robin needed to secure a safe place to live. 

So she called us. But we can’t always find a shelter. 

There are around 313,000 trafficking survivors in Texas, but only 529 beds designated for survivors in the entire United States

 Houston lacks short-term housing for trafficking survivors while they wait for long-term placement.

There are only 529 beds exclusively for trafficking survivors in the entire United States, but an estimated 313,000 trafficking victims in Texas alone. 

Even survivors who are connected to support groups and legal services may not have a safe place to sleep. Left with no other option, they resort to laying on the concrete, resting on a park bench, camping under a bridge, or sleeping in a temporary shelter. 

You may be thinking, “what about shelters that aren’t only for trafficking survivors?” 

While some trafficking survivors find a place to sleep overnight at homeless shelters, most shelters lack the resources trafficking survivors need to stay safe.

Many shelters only offer a place to stay over-night, leaving survivors with nowhere to go during the day. Reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline show that traffickers even recruit victims in homeless shelters. 

Thankfully, our team connected Robin to a shelter where she could escape her trafficker!

But as we move forward in our fight against human trafficking, it’s critical that we fill this gap in services.

We must face this reality: we need more inclusive beds and safe homes established specifically for trafficking survivors.  

 

Why Do Survivors Need Case Managers?

Why Do Survivors Need Case Managers?

Survivors can focus on healing, rather than maneuvering through logistics.

 

A survivor’s healing plan is extensive and can be confusing. Each person’s process differs. That’s why a trained, professional Case Manager is necessary to build a custom plan to meet their needs: from immediate necessities like food, clothing, and tonight’s shelter to sustained needs like healing from trauma and substance dependency, building life skills, and living independently.

Survivors have accountability to attend every counseling session, job training, and support group they need.

 

Trauma rewires the brain, limiting new information. When a survivor takes the first step in their healing plan, they are overwhelmed by appointments that they were initially excited about.

But it’s nearly impossible to remember their schedule because their brain is still stuck in survival mode. Our Case Manager will ensure that the survivor has the encouragement to make it to every appointment vital to their healing. 

Survivors have a trustworthy professional to help them overcome the barriers of healing.

 

Survivors often trust the person who exploited them – a parent, a friend, a romantic partner, an employer. It takes work to learn how to trust again and time for us to earn it.

Our Case Manager will be a reliable guide, someone survivors don’t need to worry about judging or abandoning them.

With this strong foundation of trust, a survivor can turn to our Case Manager to remove language barriers, to provide a sense of safety, and to even navigate the frustration of small confusions like phone menus.

We care about each person’s entire story, and we want to walk with them the whole way – not just the first step.

 

Thanks to your support, we hired a trained Case Manager.

Thanks to your generous support, we hired Erin Martin, a trained Case Manager with over 12 years experience. She joined our team to work alongside survivors from the day we meet them until full recovery.  We need to make sure survivors don’t fall through the cracks. A survivor who feels isolated today can have a reliable and caring guide because of you.

$50 can provide a month of transportation for survivors to attend therapy, medical appointments, and job interviews.

$100 can supply clothes for job interviews for survivors to become fully independent.

$600 can ensure a month of case management for a survivor to navigate the challenges of healing.

$1,000 can provide the Family Huddle Series for a survivor and their family to learn vital coping skills.

What’s the Key to Long-Term Healing?

What’s the Key to Long-Term Healing?

CORA

Cora’s knee bounced nervously as the phone rang in her ear. It clicked then she heard a soft, “United Against Human Trafficking, this is Briana.”

Cora hesitated—then, “Hi, I’m Cora,” she swallowed hard. “I need help.”

It didn’t take long to realize that repeated sexual assault from countless solicitors meant Cora needed a long-term plan to help her recover physically, mentally, and emotionally. She needed a Case Manager, but we don’t have one.

Briana contacted a partner with a Case Manager, but their caseload was overflowing. They lacked the resources to help Cora, too.

I know how much Cora’s suffering weighs deeply on your heart.

You want to know that victims like Cora receive care, and you want to make sure they live free. We have a solution – one you can make a reality.

I have good news and I have bad news for you.

First, The Good News:

UAHT expanded to a second location in February!

Our new office is home base of our case management for trafficking survivors. Your 2019 donation funded the growth of our survivor support groups and preliminary case-management services!

Now, the bad news:

full-time Our program isn’t fully funded.

Right now, there aren’t enough Case Managers to guide the healing of tens of thousands of trafficking victims in Houston. Too many survivors like Cora have fallen through the cracks because there aren’t enough resources to meet every need.

We’re taking responsibility to make sure that all the survivors we meet get the long-term, comprehensive care they lack.

You – our community – have called on us to fill the gap by hiring a Case Manager to work alongside survivors from the day we meet them until full recovery. But we don’t have the funds to make this happen yet, especially after COVID-19 hit.

 

You helped us get the building, will you help a sex trafficking survivor live free from his abuser’s control – for good?

You’re the key to case management.

We need to make sure survivors don’t fall through the cracks. A survivor who feels isolated today can have a reliable and caring guide because of you.

$50 can provide a month of transportation for survivors to attend therapy, medical appointments, and job interviews.

$100 can supply clothes for job interviews for survivors to become fully independent.

$600 can ensure a month of case management for a survivor to navigate the challenges of healing.

$1,000 can provide the Family Huddle Series for a survivor and their family to learn vital coping skills.

How You Can Fight Human Trafficking From Home

How You Can Fight Human Trafficking From Home

With parks closed this weekend, we thought you may be looking for something to do while you’re stuck inside. Check out these 4 virtual training opportunities and stay tuned to our social media for more to come!

1. A 2-Minute Video to Help Your Kids Navigate Social Media and Video Games Safely
2. An Open Letter of Encouragement to Survivors
3. La Trata De Personas

A Mini Human Trafficking 101 Training in Spanish

4. Human Trafficking Webinar: For the Community

Monday, April 13th | 5:00PM-5:30PM