MEMPHIS, Tenn.– January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It’s a day set aside to recognize a problem that actually exists every day of the year and is considered the second largest criminal industry in the world.
Those working closest with victims say the crisis extends to nearly every part of our community.
Sandra Ferrell is the Executive Director of Lisieux Community, a Memphis organization offering support and education for women who have been caught up in the world of human trafficking.
“In the “12 step” program we say addiction is no respecter of persons and it’s the same thing with sex trafficking. There is no respecter of persons…everybody is vulnerable,” Ferrell said. “It’s really sad because the women that we serve are the forgotten women. They’re the women that when we drive down the street we look the other direction.”
Volunteers reach out to find and comfort women who have no where to turn. Many of them were victimized after placing blind trust in someone who shows them attention at a young, vulnerable age.
“That person will take time to “groom”…which means build that trust and once that person trusts them…then they will start demanding sexual favors and they will demand that they prostitute,” Ferrell said.
Lisieux Community has changed its approach from offering a long term residential program to opening a drop-in center off Summer Avenue where on Monday’s women can have a hot meal, a shower, wash their clothes or get clean clothes and toiletries with no pressure involved.
Volunteers also drive a section of Summer Avenue every Thursday afternoon to take food and clothing to women on the street.
“There was a point in time where I was actually homeless…”
We’ll call this woman “Tara.” We’re not revealing her identity because she’s a survivor.
Her experience with human trafficking started with drug addiction and then prostitution.
Today “Tara”, who’s from Memphis, works with Lisieux (LESUE) Community to help women who’ve experienced long term, traumatic events.
“Sexual abuse…rape…being beaten up…losing their children…and I listen,” she said.
Right now, the organization serves about 61 women.
Go to www.lisieuxcommunity.org for information on how to volunteer or make donations