Pampa High School Class of 1982 graduate Sabrina Stratford first started hearing about human-trafficking in 2016 at a fundraiser.
“It was impactful because there were women on stage who had been trafficked and survived,” Stratford said. “They were making clothes and selling them. I stayed involved with the cause by researching and understanding how it happens.”
Five years later, Stratford goes to a happy hour event and met a representative from Love Justice International.
“She told a story about the age of the kids and what’s happening to them,” Stratford said. “It’s everyone as young as toddlers. That gets your attention. She said Love Justice at the highest point of impact. Love Justice is trying to do the most with the least amount of money.”
These efforts include education, rehabilitation and intercepting the potential victim from the trafficker.
“That happens at transit stations where they are trying to move them,” Stratford said. “When I started understanding that, something flipped in me and I thought to myself I’m in a place in my career where I can stop. My son is 33 and doesn’t ‘need’ me around anymore. I don’t have an excuse. There is no reason in the world why I shouldn’t do this.”
Stratford’s background in global business development lined up with the company and they made her project manager for the inaugural domestic project.
Stratford’s journey will now take her to Anchorage, Alaska, where some of the most global trafficking occurs.
“The Anchorage airport itself is one of the Top 5 busiest airports for connecting flights internationally,” Stratford said. “You’ve got the international factor, which brings traffickers through the airport. The native, indigenous people on the outer areas of Alaska are really high in poverty.
“Sixty-nine percent of all females in Alaska will be sexually assaulted. But in those outer regions, 90 percent will be. There is this issue of poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction all contributing to sexual assault where traffickers make their way through Alaska with no push-back.”
Not a Liam Neeson blockbuster
Many people use the 2008 blockbuster, “Taken,” as the motion picture personification of human trafficking. But not all cases are simply two innocent college-aged girls making connection with a good-looking male they just met overseas who has ties to mob action.
“Each person is a minimum of $200,000 to the trafficker in a very short amount of time,” Stratford said. “You get stopped at the airport if you have $200,000 worth of drugs. But you don’t get stopped at the airport if you have a toddler, or young boy or girl. The way it happens typically is through coercion on the internet and contacting children on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. It’s promising them things.
“The average age of a trafficker is 25 years old. The money is so big that traffickers are getting into it younger and younger. They figure out that, ‘If I promise a girl to be her boyfriend, to marry her and take her down to the lower 48 states for a job, etc. [I can coerce her to come with me.]’”
Stratford added that it’s not always strangers, it could be mutual friends, cousins, etc.
Not just sexual trafficking
The trafficking seen across the globe does not always have the sexual nature attached to it. There are forms of trafficking that involve human slavery.
“It could be labor or sex,” Stratford said. “In some of the cases with the boys, it is sex trafficking but it could be laboring on a pot farm. When they are done with them and the girl is sexually used up or the kid is physically worn out. They then figure out what organs are still good and part their bodies out. They may have a heart, kidney or something to sell on the black market.”
What you can do to help
Stratford has to raise a budget of $45,000 for the first year of her efforts to combat this global issue.
The organization has had success in India and Africa and has rescued 24,000 people from trafficking. Being that Alaska is the domestic pilot program, it’s become more grassroots.
“I’ve reached into my savings account and raised $23,000,” Stratford said. “I can match every dollar donated. Any dollar that comes in, I’ll match it 100 percent and I will meet my goal to be set loose in Alaska.”
Donations can be made: https://www.lovejustice.ngo/our-team/sabrina.
How to protect your child or suspect it in public:
One of the signs of your child possibly being coerced is secrecy.
“Nothing happens in the light, this has to happen in the dark,” Stratford said. “If your child is not letting you see their phone or their laptop and are keeping it a secret, it may not be a relationship happening with your boyfriend or girlfriend, it may be a conversation with someone you don’t know. You can make that a hard and fast rule: No conversations with someone we do not know.”
In public, you see a young person with an older person and they aren’t making eye contact (or even simply not on their phone), there may be an issue.
“If you see a young person with somebody and they don’t have their phone, it may have been taken away from them,” Stratford said. “When I see that at the airport, I may have airport security or Alaska law enforcement separate the potential victim from the trafficker.”
A series of questions would then be asked to determine whether there is a crime being committed.
“For someone on the outside looking in, if you see a kid who won’t make eye contact, looks afraid and isn’t looking at their phone, you may want to alert somebody,” Stratford said. “See something, say something.”
This is not political
“This simply boils down to right versus wrong,” Stratford said. “In a time of divisiveness and people picking sides, this is one thing we can all agree on. Being raised in Pampa, Texas, I know we come from good stock and Texans are good people. We do know right from wrong. Somebody has to step up and do something and it’s gotta be us. We can’t leave this for somebody else.”