In the Know
Human trafficking. I had never heard those two words until six years after I was trafficked. This new knowledge somehow felt threatening, yet comforting in some surreal way. My doctor said, “You have post-traumatic stress disorder, and what you survived is criminally known as ‘sex trafficking.’” I braced for the roller coaster of emotions welling up inside of me as painful memories shredded my core being. And as I sat in that mental health hospital room, trying to make sense of these fresh old wounds,
I realized my life was forever changed. Pushing away negative thoughts might be great for sprinting down the track, but avoiding them all together — not dealing with them — will only create more scars.
Some scars are from those who prematurely judge and the ignorant who fail to educate themselves on the psychological trauma seeded in victims. Unlike many children who half-listen to their teachers, I focused on what these “judges” and
ignorant ones had to say. In school, we learned how to protect ourselves during fire and earthquake drills and not to run with scissors. But while we were taught our general academics, no one educated us further than “stranger danger” when it came to threats from other people. And I suppose it wasn’t up to schools to educate such young minds on the horrors of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking. But the hurting “post-trauma self” wants to go back in time and educate that young naïve girl with big dreams; and while that’s impossible, it’s the fundamental reason I get up in the morning.
Even the best of people find themselves in a ditch without support at least one time in their life. And, it’s through stories like mine and yours that the human condition is interconnected, and when shared, enable us to learn how to help one another.
The Jenna McKaye Foundation, based near Sacramento, is founded on building awareness of human trafficking in communities and schools throughout the United States. The uniqueness of our foundation is that we rescue, educate, and help victims navigate their new outlook on life with community support and professional networking. During my presentations, I look out over the audience, and I can’t help but think how important it is to share and educate on the evils of human trafficking. And when I receive a personal call to help a victim, I am overjoyed to a see a life bound for true freedom and discovery.
Rescuing, advocating, educating and navigating weren’t always this clear to me. The present determination in me wasn’t always there. One interesting situation that really gave me a push as to my purpose and calling was a call to an area high school. I was asked to visit a young foster student who attended. After signing into the front office, they simply asked who I was and who I needed to see. They never verified my name or my credentials. My observational senses were alerting me to red flags right away. One of the administrators led me to a room where the girl was seated. The blinds were closed; the door was locked; and no one else was around. After our discussion, I walked her back to her classroom. Between the meeting room and her classroom, I identified several ways a human trafficker could easily have taken this young student.
Knowing how trafficking works, I thought about how easily a recruiter for trafficking could kidnap a student. All the signals were present. During the conversation, she was ready to go with me, complaining about her home life and wanting to leave campus. Her naïve internal dialogue wanted to run from one problem to a greater problem. Students are lured away from high school every day. When statistics show that one in seven American kids run away from home, and one
in three become victims of human trafficking, (according to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), we have a responsibility to educate our communities on the signs, trauma and best ways to respond to victims with victim-centered care. We have an opportunity to not only fight against the crime but to prevent it. We also need to be aware of all the different types of trafficking. I was 18 years old, newly married and trafficked. I had no warning signs, no education in
observing red flags. I wasn’t lured away by some trafficker. Knowing what to look for is only half the battle. Courage to take action is the other half.
Visit JennaMcKaye.com for more information on how to read the warning signs of human trafficking and for more of Jenna McKaye’s story.