(The panel at University of Houston.)
After finishing a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday on the Gulf Coast, we headed east into Texas. Our gracious hosts shared their cozy home with us, and got us into the Christmas spirit with some of their decorations. On Monday, Nov. 28, we showed the film at Iglesia Bautista de Houston. Tuesday we showed the film at University of Houston. Our panel for the university included an FBI Agent; Dennis Mark, the Director of Redeemed Ministries, an aftercare provider for adult victims of sex trafficking; Kellie Armstrong, the Executive Director of Freedom Place, a home that will soon be opening for juvenile victims of sex trafficking; Kendra Penry, from the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition, a sex trafficking prevention program for youth; and Dawn Lew, a Senior Staff Attorney for Children at Risk. Mr. Mark focused on the need for aftercare that is specific to the needs of each victim. Though the restoration community would benefit from some broadly defined protocols for best practices, in the end, services need to be catered to the needs of each survivor. Additionally, Ms. Perny shared about the mandatory training for law enforcement in Texas, as all new officers have to receive at least four hours of training on human trafficking. By the end of the next fiscal year, Perny said, every single officer in Houston will be trained to respond to the issue.
It took a couple days to make it from Houston to Albuquerque. On the way we encountered much colder weather than we initially expected. Thankfully we weren’t entirely immobilized by the snow we encountered. By the time we made it to the East Gate Church in Albuquerque for the screening, we were all too pleased to find some warm (New) Mexican food prepared by our kind hosts.
(Waiting for the film to begin at East Gate Church in Albuquerque.)
(The snowy desert.)
(Morgan introducing the film at Scottsdale Bible Church.)
The next day, Saturday December 3, we woke up around 5 AM in order to make it to our screening in Phoenix that evening. Due to the snow, we took an alternate route, which, though longer, allowed us some scenic views of the snow-laden desert landscape. Returning to the Phoenix area was like a homecoming of sorts, as a lot of the prosecutors, vice officers, and service providers we worked with to make the film are from Phoenix; and Streetlight USA, the restoration home that we highlight in our film is based in the Phoenix area as well. Saturday evening we showed the film at Scottsdale Bible Church, and Monday, December 5th we showed the film at Arizona State University.
(Introducing the film at Arizona State University.)
The panel at ASU included Lieutenant Jim Gallagher of the Phoenix Police Department; Lea Benson, the President and CEO of Streetlight USA; Carolyn Jones, a survivor of sex trafficking from Phoenix; and a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI. A good part of the conversation focused on the growing momentum of law enforcement in getting the greater community of Phoenix involved in addressing sex trafficking. Instead of waiting for adequate victim services to be in place before taking the sex trafficking victims off the streets, law enforcement in Phoenix is taking the girls off the streets as a catalyst to spur the community to establish adequate aftercare provisions for the victims. The approach seems to be working, as the community is starting to respond with greater urgency. Phoenix Police are trained to accurately identify victims of sex trafficking. Then, as stronger witness protection leads more victims to testify against their traffickers, prosecutors are able to win more cases against traffickers and johns. Victims are then given access to aftercare services like Streetlight, and eventually they might even have access to job opportunities with local businesses.
While we were in Phoenix, a few of us were able to go visit the Streetlight facilities. Though they aren’t yet running at their full capacity of 48 kids, we were able to meet a couple of the girls that are being rehabilitated there, and hear some of the writing they’ve been working on in their schooling. As our group has been sharing and learning so much about victims of sex trafficking, meeting the victims face to face and witnessing even a sliver of their recovery makes the information and statistics all the more tangible. Lea Benson, the President of Streetlight, who spends time with the girls on a daily basis, shared with us how a huge part of restoration involves creating a family environment for the girls; but she also noted how a similar family environment has to be created within the anti-trafficking community if our efforts are going to be successful. It was exciting to hear the vision of how Streetlight is taking steps towards establishing a sort of family in their work with different members of the community in Phoenix as well as like-minded people around the country.
(A few from our team drove through the night to catch sunrise at the Grand Canyon.)
(Waiting for the sunrise.)
(Morning from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.)
(Sarah Jo introducing the film at YWAM Las Vegas. Photo: tcd.)
From Phoenix we drove north to Las Vegas, Nevada, making a quick stop on the way to visit the South Rim of the snow-accented Grand Canyon. On Wednesday the 7th, we showed the film at the Youth With a Mission base; and on Thursday the 8th we had a screening at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. For the panel at UNLV we were thankful to have Dr. Alexis Kennedy, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at UNLV, who makes a few appearances in our film; and Detective Chris Baughman, the head of the Las Vegas Pandering Investigative Team. (Pandering is basically just another word for pimping.) Detective Baughman explained how more and more gangs are transitioning from trafficking in drugs and weapons to trafficking humans, largely because the penalties associated with trafficking in drugs and weapons are far more severe than the penalties for sexually trafficking and violently abusing human beings. Dr. Kennedy mentioned a statistic estimating that illegal prostitution, in Nevada alone, is a multi-billion dollar industry.
(Dr. Alexis Kennedy introducing the film at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.)
Considering the violence and massive profits that hold these crimes in place, Detective Baughman called for greater levels of compassion in law enforcement, saying that officers need to be willing to place themselves at least a little bit below those they’re trying to serve (in this case, victims of sex trafficking). Dr. Kennedy pointed out a need for new “alternative families” to be created for survivors of sex trafficking. The conversation seemed to show that while the ravenous pursuit of profit and power hold these violent crimes in place, generosity and compassion can impede and even reverse their growth.
(A bustling Las Vegas.)
(We dropped the bus off at its home in Las Vegas.)
On Friday, December 8th we drove to Orange County in California, where we held the final screening of the tour at Newsong Church in Irvine. We were surprised and blessed by the amount of friends and family who were in the area and were able to make it to the screening. Though the screening itself was similar to most of our church screenings, being surrounded by so many of the people that have supported us from the beginning stages of planning and making the film gave us eyes to see just how far the Sex+Money project has grown. While our project started with a small group of young people, we are now seeing it expand into a broad network of activists around the country who are catching visions of spreading freedom in their own communities.
(Morgan introducing the film at Newsong Church in Irvine, California.)
(Erica Greve, the Founder and President of Unlikely Heroes, shares about her organization’s work with victims of sex trafficking.)
(Venice Beach, California. Photo: tcd.)
Photos by Samuel Taipale and Timothy C. Dyk .Read More