By Meghan Hendrickson
Super Bowl Sunday is considered the busiest day of the year for sex trafficking in the United States, according Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. But the night before kickoff, 128 Baylor women gathered to raise awareness and combat the issue head-on.
Saturday night, the women attended Pi Beta Phi’s “A21 Pajama Party.” The A21 Campaign is an anti-trafficking ministry created in 2007. The International Mission Board defines human trafficking as the practice of deceiving individuals or taking them against their will, and selling, buying and transporting them into slavery.
Participants at the pajama party donated money and pajamas to rescued victims of human trafficking in the Ukraine, where A21 has shelters for victims of sex trafficking.
The shelters serve as both a safe house for rescued victims of human trafficking and a transition home for girls to spend 12 to 15 weeks dealing with their past, embracing their newfound freedom and learning how to reintegrate into society.
Blair Gulley, A21 Campaign volunteer, spoke at the pajama party.
In 2010, Gulley decided she needed to do something about the issue of modern-day slavery and help give victims a voice. In 2011, she traveled to A21 Campaign’s headquarters in Greece to experience the ministry’s justice initiatives firsthand.
Gulley said when she went to the transition home, she was shocked to discover how young the girls were many as young as 11 years old. She was also surprised by the high demand for prostitution, which is legal in Greece.
One of the most powerful ways to combat human trafficking, Gulley said, is to pray.
“Praying is the easiest thing you could do, yet I think it’s one of the things we most often forget to do,” Gulley said.
In addition to donating money and pajamas to the A21 Campaign, participants in Pi Phi’s pajama party wrote letters to women in the A21 shelters in Europe.
“We wanted the girls to leave hopeful, like they could do something about sex trafficking instead of just being burdened by the information,” San Antonio senior Abby Farmer said.
“We provided ways that they could do something now through local organizations like Jesus Said Love, participating in a 4K in March to raise awareness or through the power of prayer.”
Dallas junior Natalie Garnett is the communications director for Jesus Said Love, a ministry in Waco that shares the love of Christ in practical ways to individuals often disregarded by society and unreached by the church — those working in three local strip clubs.
“Strip clubs are a legal business, but it is part of the sex industry,” Garnett said.
“Pretty much anywhere there’s a strip club, there’s a demand for prostitution. And when you get involved in prostitution, you’re opening the door for sex trafficking.” Garnett said women who come out of the sex industry have a lot of the same psychological needs as women coming out of sex trafficking.
“We live in a culture that allows trafficking to happen,” Garnett said. “Raising awareness about trafficking and really bringing out the evil of it is shining light in dark places.”
Garnett said those interested in getting involved with Jesus Said Love can go to the organization’s website, JesusSaidLove.com, and browse through volunteer opportunities.
She also mentioned other organizations that have Baylor chapters students can get involved in, including International Justice Mission, Not For Sale and Invisible Children.
McKinney junior BriAnn Dorris, a Pi Phi who attended the A21 event, first heard about human trafficking during a social justice discussion at Baylor Spiritual Life’s Freshman Retreat in 2009.
“It was crazy to think this happens even in America and it’s just ignored,” Dorris said. “After going through my education as a social work major, I’ve realized you really can be an effective change agent as one person.”
2004 Baylor graduate Elizabeth Griffin also spoke at the pajama party and said she hopes other individuals and churches will stand up against the injustice of human trafficking.
Griffin is a member of UnBound, an anti-trafficking ministry in development at Antioch Community Church that seeks to fight human trafficking locally, nationally and internationally.
The ministry will launch next month.
“Human trafficking is an issue near to God’s heart, and the people of God are called to respond to the issue,” Griffin said.
The launch meeting is open to the Waco community and will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 4 in the main sanctuary of Antioch Community Church at 505 North 20th St.
The meeting will begin with a time of prayer and worship followed by a message from Jennifer Smyer, director of global mission leadership in the Baylor School of Social Work.
Smyer will speak about the issue and how members of the community can join the fight against trafficking in Waco.