“That’s what happened to me,” Jackie stated confidently in front of her peers. While I receive disclosures of human trafficking frequently, this one caught me off guard.
Our Real Talk Program consists of 10 sessions; each focused on different themes of self-development, to expose and remove the vulnerabilities that put teens at risk for exploitation. This day in particular, at Krause Children’s Center, we were discussing social media platforms used by traffickers to lure teens. I mentioned the usual suspects: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Kik, etc. I asked for the girls’ feedback to start a dialogue and engage their minds. What happened next impacted me.
“What platform do you think the traffickers use the most?”
“Kik,” Jackie said.
“Why do you think that?” I asked, to engage her further.
“Because that’s what happened to me.”
In the anti-trafficking movement, we know that victims often don’t self-identify. The consistently manipulative recruitment method traffickers use to recruit teens usually leaves these kids with a sense of shame, confusion, and distorted reality. Real Talk provides a safe space for these kids to communicate, self-identify, learn, and build a healthy set of life skills.
In defiance of their past exploitation, these teens are resilient. The more I am in this role, the more I see their tenacity and ability to find hope, to find their voice. Our program creates the space, and Jackie fearlessly took the opportunity.
“I want to share my story.”
So she did. This 14-year-old stood in front of her peers and found her voice. She shared with the other girls and I the story of her life: her lack of family, seeking emotional support through online apps – and how using Kik led her to the man who became her trafficker.
Most importantly, she stated her commitment to fighting her way back to reclaim her life – and wanting justice for what happened to her.
Rape. Abuse. Neglect. Fear. Their stories hold unimaginable pain. Real Talk is an essential program for Houston’s kids; they need our help. Teens like Jackie need a safe space to tell their story, and have support as they work through their painful experiences.
After ten years in the community, UAHT has crafted a trauma-informed, evidence-based, RELATABLE program that is providing results. Because of our growth and expansion in 2018, our disclosure rate has doubled.
Our calendar is packed. Our teens are crying out for help. Multiple counties are requesting our help to identify and assist minor victims of trafficking. We regularly receive calls to help with teen boys who need Real Talk, and UAHT to be their advocate. They are ready to receive care, and as we look ahead to what 2019 holds, we see a year of hope. We can answer these calls because of your support.
Thank you for being a part of that story.