By Elise Crosley | Contributor
The men shuffled into the 22-story building, anxiously passing by the pinkly-lit windows. Each kept his head down and moved quickly. Customer after customer stood in line, waiting to pay for their desired services. One man looked down a narrow hallway with doors lining the walls, each one adorned with a variety of phrases and decor to draw the eye of the customer. The man approached the third door and knocked. A young girl, appearing to be about fifteen years old, opened the door hesitantly. He noticed a rickety bed and rusty shower in the room behind her. The man affirmed his choice and stepped inside. It was as simple and transactional as getting a haircut.
In many parts of the world, human trafficking involves brothels, pimps and women being tricked into the sex trade to support their families –– many back home in other countries. Born out of one woman’s passion to rescue these victims came a non-profit organization called UnBound.
In Central Texas, trafficking has infiltrated the area but is much less obvious to the average citizen, said Natalie Garnett, assistant national director of UnBound.
Susan Peters, executive director of UnBound, said she when visited Uganda, she met young men who had once been child soldiers. Kidnapped from their villages, they were forced into labor trafficking and taught to fight as children.
After returning home to the U.S., Peters said she continued to research the issue of human trafficking and discovered its presence in Thailand, India, Cambodia and the U.S. as well. Stunned by what she was learning, Peters said she journaled, prayed and contemplated what she could do.
“The average age of an American child being pulled into human trafficking in the U.S. is fourteen …That’s underage,” Peters said. “You may see a 27 year-old, but if you ask her when she started, it was under 18.”
Predators often lure their victims through social media, portraying themselves as a caring friend or a love interest, Peters said. Instead of an accessible brothel, human trafficking lurks behind closed doors, most commonly taking place at motels and gas stations.
“Fifty percent of these human trafficking victims are videoed for pornographic use,” said Peters.
In 2012, Antioch Community Church hosted a conference where a guest spoke about human trafficking. After listening to the message, Peters said she and a few of her friends decided to act. She specifically felt called to the local church, to raise awareness and empower its members to get involved.
“We started with just six people, praying and asking the Lord how we would do this,” Peters said.
Peters said UnBound began with quarterly meetings of volunteers who came to listen and learn about trafficking from various speakers.
At their very first meeting, a woman walked up and said she felt her daughter was being trafficked. Peters said she and her team did some research and found postings of the woman’s daughter in trafficking ads across the country. They discovered she had been arrested in another state for prostitution. Peters said one of UnBound’s attorneys was able to contact the jail, inform local law enforcement about the trafficking ads and confirm that human trafficking was indeed the case.
Peters said she realized they were in a race to get the girl out of jail before her pimp beat them to it. UnBound did not have the funds at the time to post bond for her release, so the team combed the community to raise money for the girl’s rescue. They succeeded and provided her with the opportunity for freedom and a safe place to live.
“That’s really how it started,” Peters said. “We were seeing more and more [human trafficking] and knew that we needed to do something.”
In the last year, UnBound has served 50 victims from six to 56 years old. Surprisingly, American citizens –– not foreigners –– make up 90 percent of the victims rescued.
Included in UnBound’s volunteer group are many Baylor students who give up hours of their week to fight human trafficking.
“I was drawn to volunteering with UnBound due to the way that they serve the Waco community, and beyond Waco, with such excellence,” said Austin sophomore Ana O’Quin. “I have seen no other organization combine such a passion for justice and a commitment to God’s call to justice as well as UnBound has.”
For those who would like to assist UnBound as a donor or volunteer, please contact Susan Peters through the website at www.unboundnow.org/chapter/waco.