A couple years ago, if you would have mentioned “slavery” to me, I would have been transported back to 5th grade Social Studies class. We were assigned to take on the role of either a slave owner or a slave in the years before and during the Civil War and write from their perspective. It made such an impact on me and is one of the reasons why I fell in love with history and learning about social justice. As a 4th-grade student teacher, the big project I assigned was for students to write a piece of historical fiction. It made my heart leap when some of my students chose the topic of slavery and crafted their characters and plot around a topic that they knew was near and dear to me.
Fast forward to today, and what I know about slavery has evolved. A few months ago, I came across a page called Purchased Indiana on Instagram. Their bio talked about ending slavery and human trafficking today. While I had heard some stories or read a couple news articles about girls being trafficked in this day and age, it’s something that you don’t think happens in your “free” country, let alone your home city. Human trafficking is not a topic that’s talked about frequently or in everyday conversations with family and friends. But that needs to change. In Indiana, in 2018, there were 142 cases of human trafficking reported. The vast majority of those reports were for female victims of sex trafficking.
I recently had the privilege to connect with Jessica Evans, the Founder/Program Director of Purchased, through a mutual friend. This Indianapolis-based nonprofit’s mission is to educate, equip, and empower the community to end human trafficking in Indiana. When I asked Jessica how she got started with Purchased, she said,
I had a wonderful and supportive family, and never experienced any type of abuse growing up. When I began to learn that others had not had that experience, my heart began to break. As I learned more and more about human trafficking, I knew there was a call on my life to bring hope and love to those that I could.
You can read more of our interview below:
*What does the Purchased organization do?
Purchased focuses on 2 main areas – prevention education and survivor support. If you think about the issue of human trafficking as a continuum, we represent the bookends of the issue. Prevention education involves a couple of initiatives: community education and prevention education for girls at-risk for trafficking. Purchased started in 2008 as an initiative to raise awareness about HT in our community, and that is still very much a passion for us – helping folks in the community understand trafficking, know how to report, and how to get involved in supporting organizations who are doing great anti-trafficking work. This could be as simple as a documentary night at a local church, a lunch and learn at a business, or a presentation at a conference. We are also committed to helping people in the community educate those in their sphere of influence.
*What does trafficking look like in terms of children?
The average age of the girls we serve is 16, so their exploitation occurred prior to that age. Of course, every story and experience is different. Some of the girls we have served have been abused/trafficked from a very young age, some only for a few months. Some were exploited by family members, some online, some by a “boyfriend” or other relationship. There is almost always some kind of relationship that is already there, or that is built prior to their exploitation. That is why the healing process can be so difficult. People that they thought they could trust turned out to be the ones who exploited them. Trauma that happens in a relationship must be healed through relationships, so that is why our mentorship program is so important!
*Are there ways Hoosiers can help or contribute?
Yes! There are many ways in which folks can be part of the solution. The response I always give is to invest in the vulnerable youth in your community. Find those kiddos that may be at-risk and become their mentor or friend. This is a powerful way to help prevent the trafficking of youth. Educating those in your sphere of influence is an important way to contribute. Of course, supporting those organizations doing great anti-trafficking work financially or by volunteering is a great way, too. Finally, being aware of how your actions affect this issue (watching pornography, supporting over-sexualized media, buying products that are made by those enslaved around the world, even the language we use and how we spend our time and money) is important. We all play a part!
Purchased works diligently to stop the problem before it begins through prevention education in our community, especially for at-risk girls ages 12-18. They do this through the My Life My Choice program created by survivors of trafficking at the Justice Resource Institute, and the curriculum Jessica created called “What Would I Do?” through the IPATH (Indiana Protection of Abused and Trafficked Humans) task force that focuses on healthy relationships and how individuals can advocate for themselves and others.
Purchased also engages in survivor support through 2 programs – the ALLIES mentorship program and Thrive parent/guardian support program. Jessica says, “One of the most powerful ways to help a survivor move forward in their journey of healing is to provide a consistent, healthy relationship through all the ups and downs of their journey.” These programs help adults and youth in “understanding trafficking, trauma, how to create healthy boundaries in your home, how to build trust, forgiveness, and self-care. The goal is to help create a home environment that is a safe and healing place for these survivors”.
Slavery is not a topic just for the history books. Our country is not “free” from the horror that is men, women, and children (especially young girls) being bought and sold. Human trafficking is alive and in our very own community, even if we don’t see it. It’s something we need to speak out against and educate ourselves and others about. Jessica Evans is a social justice superstar who is helping do just that by spreading love, hope, and activism.