Change and Breakthrough in 2022

Change and Breakthrough in 2022

My Dear Friend,

If I had to summarize 2022 in one word, it would be DYNAMIC. We experienced many changes and breakthroughs as an organization. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt at UAHT and throughout the entire anti-trafficking movement. Still, with you propelling us, we made great leaps forward: over 60 adult trafficking survivors received wraparound care and took steps to reclaim their lives and freedom. With a focus on empowerment, clients learned critical life skills in a new financial planning course.

Thanks to supporters like you, our bilingual English-Spanish demand reduction support groups served 58. To deliver frontline training to more professionals than ever before, 20 bold volunteers pioneered a UAHT Speakers’ Bureau.

When you read through this Impact Report, please know that every accomplishment contained within its pages was hard-fought for and lovingly celebrated.

Your unwavering support ensures UAHT’s ability to adapt and flourish – and it’s why colleagues, partners, and friends trust us as a leader in the anti-trafficking movement. I am deeply honored by the trust that communities place in UAHT’s work. They know they can rely on us and allies like you to fill gaps and thrive in that role.

While UAHT is looked to as a trusted leader in the anti-trafficking movement, we look to people with lived experience of human trafficking as the true leaders. They are the core of UAHT. They lead from the frontlines and guide the rest of us in the movement. UAHT walks behind these survivors, these thrivers, these overcomers. In 2022, your support equipped us to center more individuals with lived experience in events and programs, implementing a comprehensive engagement plan. Perhaps our greatest tribute to overcomers this year was the Radiate Hope Luncheon: an event that lifted and centered survivors through an engaging, empowering panel of five overcomers detailing their triumphs, their hopes, and their dreams. The astounding success of Radiate Hope and the outpouring of positive feedback from attendees and panelists prompted UAHT to make the event an annual celebration of survivor leadership.

We continue to push for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – not just in words, but in deeds. We see our DEI efforts as an intentional way of BEING. In 2022, we established a movement standard for DEI with other anti-trafficking nonprofits. In no unclear terms, we affirmed our unconditional support for all communities, honoring the dignity and worth of every human being.

Our internal DEI Committee has become an integral part of all aspects of our agency, from our hiring practices to staff training and much, much more. In June, our entire staff traveled to Galveston to celebrate Juneteenth: the day Union troops arrived in the historic city to bring news of the Emancipation Proclamation. The unforgettable trip reminded us why we fight: SO THAT ALL MAY LIVE FREE.

I continue to work alongside other anti-trafficking leaders and boards, encouraging them to center DEI in all their efforts to end human trafficking. I feel hopeful knowing that the movement has begun to take vital steps to implement the necessary changes for best serving and honoring survivors.

Thanks to you and supporters like you, UAHT is expanding beyond Houston. We are speaking and collaborating with other communities – places like Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, and the Rio Grande Valley. I’m so excited to share that we have established a branch of our Coalition in Lake Charles, LA and The Pathway Referral Network has expanded into South Florida! The future of UAHT is national. But I want each of you to know that we’re still here. Even when I travel to other areas to continue conversations on how UAHT can serve the rest of the country, I take Houston with me wherever I go. We will never stop appreciating where we started. The lessons we’ve learned here, the love and unity we’ve cultivated, won’t fade. Houston will always be home.

I know UAHT is ready for anything, thanks to the vibrant community that supports us, and —vitally— I know you will continue standing with us. You will continue to honor and celebrate survivors as they empower themselves, you will continue to fight for equity, and you will never forget the community that brought UAHT to where it is today. With all my heart, thank you.

With so much love and gratitude,

Timeka Walker, LMSW
Chief Executive Officer

Together, we can end human trafficking.

You Can Keep Teens Safe this Holiday Season

You Can Keep Teens Safe this Holiday Season

When you give to United Against Human Trafficking, you help kids like Nyoka stay safe.

It’s normal for teenagers to feel lonely and misunderstood – but for Nyoka, these feelings were so intense at times that they clouded her mind.

She would lay in her bed, staring at her phone, and think about the oppressive weight pressing on her chest. Her mother was working late again. If Nyoka yelled, would anybody hear? Would anybody care? 

Your gift helps UAHT reach teens like Nyoka, reminding them they are not alone.

Because so many children today are feeling isolated in the wake of such a lasting pandemic.

And that isolation can be dangerous.

Nyoka met her groomer on Facebook.

Kelly seemed like the coolest girl Nyoka could imagine. She was a few grades above Nyoka, wore cute clothes, and even drove her own car.

On top of it all, Kelly was choosing to talk with Nyoka! It made the lonely teen feel special.

Kelly and Nyoka chatted on Facebook Messenger every day. They complained about their parents – Nyoka’s mom was always at work and her father was incarcerated – and gossiped about what was happening at their schools.

Trafficking recruiters take advantage of desperation – from poverty, from trauma, and loneliness. With your help, teens like Nyoka can learn vital life skills to recognize and avoid these manipulative tactics.

Supporters like YOU ensure thousands of teens learn how to safely navigate social media and spot potential trafficking groomers.

Because if knowledge is power, then knowledge of human trafficking can save young lives.

Weeks passed before Nyoka began UAHT’s after-school program called Real Talk.

Though she had been cautious at first, Nyoka was quickly warming up to her fellow group members and UAHT’s facilitator. He really listened to the teens when they opened up about their emotions, and the calm kindness he exuded helped them feel safe.

During one session while they all shared some snacks, the facilitator explained what human trafficking is. All the kids shared wide-eyed looks when he showed them some pictures of convicted traffickers: there were men, women, adults, and even teens!

You give youth a chance at growth when you donate to UAHT.

$50 brings favorite snacks to vulnerable kids in residential facilities who participate in UAHT’s peer support group Real Talk. 

$100 helps connect an overlooked child who discloses victimization to critical support services. 

$500 enrolls a young adult survivor of human trafficking in comprehensive case management to start reclaiming their lives. 

Don’t wait! Donate today and ensure at-risk children know how to recognize and avoid traffickers – before they experience harm.

When Nyoka saw the picture of the cheerleader-turned-trafficker, she felt sick to her stomach.

Her mind flashed back to when she snuck away from home to go shopping with Kelly a few weeks ago. It was at the mall where Kelly gifted a silver bracelet to Nyoka and teased her until she drank a beer.

According to the class, giving gifts, manipulating emotions, and encouraging illegal acts were all red flags that she was being groomed for something harmful.

Since that trip, Kelly kept insisting that 16-year-old Nyoka come with her to an 18+ club where “cute older boys would be.” Nyoka made excuses, but Kelly remained persistent.

Could Kelly be a trafficker? The notion haunted Nyoka for days.

At the next Real Talk session, Nyoka volunteered to share her situation with the group to get their opinions.

Nyoka told the group everything.

She told them about Kelly, about the mall trip, and about the mounting pressure she felt from her new ‘friend.’ When Nyoka had finally finished unloading the burden of her story, she realized that tears were falling down her face.

Nyoka’s peers and facilitator listened openly and compassionately.

They did not judge her, and they did not make her feel stupid. The facilitator calmly tied the teen’s experience to what the group had been talking about last session: the early stages of trafficking recruitment.

With the gentle support of her group, Nyoka realized that she had been regularly posting on Facebook about feeling lonely when ‘Kelly’ first reached out. The teen’s stomach dropped. So THAT’S why Kelly took so much interest in her life.

Every day, teens like Nyoka face dilemmas we will never hear about

And if we do, it isn’t until it’s in the newspaper, or a tragic story whispered in the neighborhood. If she had finally given in to Kelly’s demands to go to that club, the young teen would have been coerced into servicing one of the older teen’s ‘friends.’ The situation would have escalated from there: new clubs, new ‘friends,’ and blackmail if Nyoka ever tried to refuse.

But thanks to the support UAHT receives from friends like YOU, Nyoka felt heard.

She got out her phone and blocked Kelly on Facebook with her new friends cheering at her side.

UAHT’s facilitator worked with Nyoka’s counselor to ensure he knew about the situation and even assisted the teen in speaking to her mother about it.

Now if Kelly ever tried to contact Nyoka again, Nyoka would have backup that even Kelly could not manipulate her way through.

When the Real Talk session ended, a few of her peers approached Nyoka to ask how she was doing. They complimented her for her brave vulnerability and asked if she wanted to meet up tomorrow after school at a nearby park to talk some more.

 Some of the clouds in Nyoka’s mind began to clear, revealing a hopeful blue sky.

Please, give to UAHT today to help facilitate new stories of hope for troubled teens, struggling survivors, and so many more who deserve somebody to walk alongside them.

UAHT can give children the space to bring their blue sky back thanks to such a generous community. YOU make it possible.

How Walking 13 Miles Helped Me Understand Human Trafficking Better

How Walking 13 Miles Helped Me Understand Human Trafficking Better

In August of 2022, I made the big move from a small community in Central Minnesota to the big city of Houston. While living here for the past 4 months I have been struck by the balance of beauty and hardship that this metro area has to offer.  

I never realized how the vastness and urban sprawl could be met with such a lack of public transportation.

This Giving Tuesday, my team and I set out to walk the distance between United Against Human Trafficking’s two offices to demonstrate the hardship of lacking reliable form of transportation in the fourth largest city in the United States. The journey between these two offices is about 13 miles.  

The days leading up to the walk were faced with excitement and a little anxiety about the feat we were set out to accomplish. That morning started out humid and sticky with a decent chance of rain. As we gathered in the conference room, I realized that we had all prepared differently for the walk at hand, some of us brought trekking poles, while others packed enough snacks to feed a small army, but we were all unified by one common goal to walk these miles in solidarity with the clients we have the privilege of serving on a day-to-day basis. We were there to honor their experience by making a statement on how inaccessible the city can be for those who lack privilege.

As we walked, I noticed much more about Houston than I had ever had a chance to encounter while driving my vehicle.

We engaged with not only the sights that Houston had to offer, but the smells too. During our walk, I was most struck by the changes in scenery we experienced. We walked past refugee housing in Sharpstown, one of the most diverse neighborhoods of Houston and then into West University where we were met with one of the wealthiest areas in the city. We even had the pleasure of walking through two different Bayou Trails, where we were struck by waterway and greenspace that can be rare to find in a city of our size.  

We engaged with so many people along the way that made me remember why we are doing this work. From the inquisitive barista at Betsy’s, to the kind words of encouragement from the unhoused folks cleaning windshields on the feeder road to the man driving his truck along the bayou, who claimed to have ridden his bike across one of the support beams holding up the bayou walls in 1977.

Each person reminded me again of the vast variety of experiences that those in our beloved city are walking (no pun intended) through.  

Physically, this walk was HARD!

From the unforgiving pavement to the occasional raindrops that splattered our shirts as we trekked. I felt every step by the time we were done. (For any of those hardcore half marathon or marathon runners out there, I have gained so much respect for the drive and tenacity it takes to commit to not walking those miles but RUNNING them!)

This walk took commitment. Commitment to our team when we were starting to feel tired, commitment to the city as we were committed to recognizing the beauty and the hard within the spaces we were walking through. We also had to commit to joy, even when that meant dancing and singing down the street to keep our spirits lifted.  

And now, as I write this a day later, I also recognize this: It was only one day.

One day of inconvenience and struggle that I chose to take part in. I remind myself that to take real ownership of this experience, I must also acknowledge this was an act of solidarity, not the face of my reality. For others, that is not the case.  The depth of their experience cannot be felt in 13 miles; it is something that must be engaged with on a regular basis and even then, the empathy that I have gained from experience will truly never give me their entire story.  

One day of walking in struggle and inconvenience is not enough to change the systems in which these injustices are allowed and even encouraged to exist. Solidarity does not come from one thirteen-mile journey. It does not come from one day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. 

Solidarity with those around us requires a daily inventory of our commitment to justice and equity. It is our duty as citizens to engage with not only the beauty that the world has to offer, but the hard parts too.

The best way to stand united with the challenges presented to us is to act. 

Not just during this holiday season, but every day thereafter.

Elyse Lewandwoski is the JVC intern at United Against Human Trafficking

In solidarity and hope,

Elyse Lewandowski
Data Coordinator