Free the captives. Restore the oppressed. Equip the people. Empower the generations.
While that may sound like a battle cry from wars of old, it is the very current motto of BE FREE Dayton, an organization that feels that while sex trafficking may sometimes look like voluntary prostitution, it is not. Creative Director Elizabeth Van Dine said that a minimal percentage of women or men actually “choose” to sell themselves for sex, and even then, that most adults in that industry are child victims of sex trafficking and abuse themselves.
According to the Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. Victims are forced, defrauded, or coerced into trafficking. Even if victims initially offer consent, that consent is rendered meaningless by the actions of the traffickers to exploit them for labor, services, or commercial sex. In Ohio, the most common age to become a victim is 13 years old (yes, you read that right).
In the Miami Valley, Van Dine explains that trafficking is not really a poverty issue. According to Justice plus Freedom, 80 percent of trafficking victims in the Valley come from middle class or higher homes. The key word is “vulnerability” – those who recruit use manipulation to make the victim dependent on something: drugs, attention, shelter – and then yank that away if the victim does not comply.
BE FREE spreads their battle over three fronts to cover the ‘life cycle’ of sex trafficking, a coin they’ve termed to refer to the before, during and after stages of trafficking. They are seeing benefits in all three stages, and can use the community’s help in a variety of ways.
Sex traffickers prey on vulnerable children and adults. BE FREE offers four different educational programs to combat this and raise awareness.
Each of these courses are free and offered to any group of five or more. BE FREE has presented in schools, churches, government agencies, Rotary Clubs, and even private home settings. They are also looking for educators willing to teach the trainings. Educators would be responsible for 2-3 trainings a month, and would be given the tools and training to know the subject matter extensively.
To schedule a training or for more information on becoming an educator, email email@example.com.
This is where BE FREE considered what other groups fighting to stop sex trafficking were doing across the nation, then looked at Dayton and asked themselves “what are the specific needs of our community and what are we doing to meet it?” The result is FREEus Outreach, a comprehensive approach to meet victims in the streets, in venues, and on the grid (cyber outreach and care online).
BE FREE works with Oasis House to meet victims on the street in downtown Dayton, bringing goody bags to those who may have no place to sleep or eat that night…and according to Van Dine, are in their end game. Interesting fact: in Dayton, unlike the movies, prostitution is not at its peak at night. The most popular times for business in that industry are during the morning commute and lunch hour.
BE FREE is continually accepting items to fill their goody bags. Drop off any of these items at their office at 425 N. Findlay St.:
The greatest need for manpower and “boots on the ground,” according to Van Dine, is in the venue zones. Teams of 4-8 people are assigned a zip code, and once a month visit various businesses in that zone that victims of trafficking may frequent: hotels, bars, truck stops, gas stations, laundromats and hair salons. The goal is to establish relationships and shift perspectives, providing different resources at different places (like coasters with the tipline and sex trafficking red flags at bars).
“What our teams are doing is making a difference,” Van Dine stated, pointing to a sex trafficking ring that had been alluding law enforcement for more than two years, and thanks to a tip from one of the places the teams made contact with, made a significant crack in the case.
To get involved in a team, email April at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BE FREE is also working to establish an aftercare support network, and welcomes anyone with connections in that field. They believe aftercare is essential to restore victims of sex trafficking to a mainstream life, providing them with adequate housing, services and advocacy. They are also helping research and collect data from women’s prisons, Oasis House and other organizations to see victims’ demographics and continue to hone their practices to meet specific needs of this community.
If you can’t devote physical time or energy to help, just helping promote BE FREE and get their mission out is important. Like or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Spread the word and be part of the fight to abolish human sex trafficking.