I see human trafficking victims every day. So do you:
- The 14-year-old girl we pass on the street as she walks home from school
- The young woman whose table we sit next to at Starbucks
- The young man who knocks on our door to sell magazine subscriptions
We see them, but we don’t see them. They don’t fit into our notion of what a human trafficking victim “looks like.” They aren’t tied up, bruised, or crying. They walk among us, their captivity hidden from view as they replay their trafficker’s threats, beatings, and confusing, cruel behavior in their mind. All three of these individuals are actual people whom we at The Dragonfly Home had the opportunity to work with after they exited human trafficking.
You could have easily crossed paths with them while they still walked the dark path of human trafficking.
The 14-year-old girl? We’ll call her Amanda.* Despite growing up in an affluent Oklahoma community, Amanda suffered extremely low self-esteem and depression. One day, she met a couple of cute guys around her age who made her feel special. Unbeknownst to her, they were gang members who drugged Amanda. She awoke to find herself trapped in a hotel room. Although she didn’t know where she was, she was being sold right in her own hometown in Oklahoma, just miles from her childhood home – forced into a living hell of sex trafficking.
The young woman at Starbucks? We’ll call her Marissa.* Desperate for love after a childhood filled with neglect and abuse, Marissa left home with her Prince Charming at age 16. Soon after they arrived in Nevada, the man who promised Marissa the world began beating her mercilessly and threatening to kill her family if she didn’t earn $2,500 a day selling herself for sex.
The young man selling magazine subscriptions? We’ll call him Steve.* Growing up in a family where there was too little money and too much alcohol, Steve thought a job offering the chance to get rich quick and launch a career seemed like his ticket out. Soon, however, he found himself in an unfamiliar Missouri city and working under cruel bosses who took away his phone and wouldn’t let him eat unless he met a sales quota. With no way out, Steve was trapped in labor trafficking.
Hundreds of voices echo through our minds and hearts – voices of human trafficking victims whom we’ve served over the years. These bright, courageous, incredibly strong individuals inspire our mission and inform everything we do at The Dragonfly Home. With a combined 15+ years of experience working with human trafficking victims, our staff is launching a new venture: The Dragonfly Home Human Trafficking Relief and Restoration Center (HTRRC), located in Oklahoma City.
Previously, our staff helped establish OKC’s first state-certified shelter program which was only licensed to serve adult women victims of sex trafficking. We saw a huge gap in accessibility to services for victims who didn’t fit this definition, which inspired us to open the HTRRC. Under our soon-to-be state certified crisis center model, we will be able to connect a broader demographic – women, men, youth; labor and sex trafficking victims – to critical services to help them start the path to recovery.
The journey to restoration is hard-fought, but rewarding. Our program staff walks with human trafficking victims who share stories of horrific violence and cruelty that defy the imagination. Many of them have suffered severe trauma resulting in physical pain and symptoms, mental health issues, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder levels on par with combat soldiers. Due to extreme coercion and control on the part of traffickers, it may take someone several times to walk away from their trafficking situation for good. Even then, their lives may still be in extreme danger if their trafficker continues to search for them.
Nonetheless, these individuals are true survivors. We have seen people overcome the worst trauma imaginable and come out on the other side. Amanda managed to get out of her situation and needed help to recover. Marissa escaped from her trafficker and sought referrals for help. Steve called the National Human Trafficking Hotline looking for help. All three were put in contact with staff members of The Dragonfly Home. Through specialized programming, all three flourished! All three were reunited with family. All three received access to services that helped them on their path to recovery. All three are living the life of their choosing today.
The dragonfly represents the amazing human capacity for resilience and restoration we have witnessed time and time again in the survivors we’ve worked with. For generations, cultures spanning the globe have viewed dragonfly as a symbol of deep transformation and renewal, of courage, resilience, and victory. We at The Dragonfly Home wishes to empower everyone we serve to live life full of the positive qualities embodied by the dragonfly.
We know this to be true: anyone can move away from their past in human trafficking down the path to transformation, realizing their own unique strength and courage. Although the path to restoration from human trafficking is long and winding, with unexpected twists and turns, we have seen too much good come out of our work to lose hope or, even for a moment, consider giving up. Instead, these incredibly strong individuals – who teach us so much about the world, about survival, and about resilience – spur us on. They inspire us to continue reaching out to more people harmed by the crime of human trafficking and help them move toward a future of freedom.
*all names changed to protect privacy
Written By: Guest Blogger Melissa Eick, Esq.
Co-Founder, Director of Communications and Development
The Dragonfly Home
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