See The One
Can you recall a moment in your life that left you baffled, wondering , "How on earth did I miss that?" I think it actually happens to us far more than we would expect. In fact the Bible paints a picture of the spiritual realm consisting of both GOD, the angels, the devil and his demons. There is a realm in the atmosphere we all live in, but cannot see with our natural eyes. It’s a very real war between good & evil; until we choose to see it we won’t.
Truth is beneath the veneer of everyday life lies a shadowy realm of overlooked crimes that often escape the notice of the average American. White-collar offenses silently unfold in corporate boardrooms, cybercriminals orchestrate virtual heists that escape immediate detection, and instances of identity theft weave seamlessly into the fabric of daily transactions. While headlines may focus on high-profile incidents, more insidious crimes like fraud, embezzlement, or subtle forms of harassment persist in the background. Yet darker more unimaginable things happen right before our eyes and we glimpse past them everyday.
While we are distracted with social media and busy, these covert transgressions quietly shape the underbelly of society, challenging us to consider the unseen threads woven into the tapestry of our daily existence. I don’t know if it's that I never saw it or if I chose not to see it but it's more real, more terrifying and tragic than I would have ever expected especially where I live and have raised my children.
Almost 5 years ago, my husband and our two sons moved from California to Central Texas. Driving into the city of Austin for the first time felt extremely exciting and overwhelming and even more so as we drove into the suburban cities that sort of spilled out all around the capital.
We moved from a very small town and would almost always run into a friend or family member anytime we went to a store. Now, we live in a city probably triple the size. I remember the very first day we were in our new home, we made a list of items we needed. My husband, myself and a lifelong friend who came to help with the move drove to the local Walmart that evening.
While we were shopping we decided to divide and conquer because it was getting late. I remember standing in the bathroom accessories aisle and this nagging feeling was making me uneasy; I looked over and noticed a man looking at me from a distance while on his phone. He had very nervous predatory eyes. It made me so uncomfortable I immediately just walked to where I knew my husband was shopping. I don't believe I said anything to my husband right away but then I saw the same man again talking to another man looking in our direction. At that point I think I finally said something to my husband but the men were no place in sight.
After checking out we walked out to our cars and were in shock because someone had unscrewed our California license plate and tossed it on the ground. While we were investigating, I looked back towards the store and the man I initially saw was standing outside the store on his phone looking in our direction. Everything felt extremely frightening and I was just ready to leave.
Later while talking to one of my new friends at church; I shared the experience with her and that was the moment a new and unsettling term entered my consciousness: human trafficking. I felt as though I had lived under a rock. I learned that human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings, often for forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. The gravity of this issue suddenly came sharply into focus.
As of the latest available statistics, the global scourge of human trafficking remains a pressing concern. Recent data suggests a disheartening rise, with the United States grappling with an alarming increase in cases. Texas, unfortunately, has found itself ranked second in the nation for reported incidents, shedding light on the severity of the problem within its borders. My new friend (who now I consider family) began to share her experience working for an incredible local non-profit ministry called, The Key2Free.
Their genesis story is an incredible one! A group of ladies went on a missions trip to Thessaloniki, Greece. It was there that these women realized the reality and horrific nature of human trafficking. They came home with broken hearts when The Key2Frees CEO, Amy Davis felt a call from God to provide services to women who have been exploited and trafficked here at home. Like always when God calls and we walk in obedience, He provides. Soon they were able to connect with other ministries that have helped them grow and become what they are today.
Now this wonderful group of ladies are able to provide restorative safe housing programs for adult female survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation. You can read all about them at The Key2Free follow, like, and share them on all the things social media! They have a million ways you can get involved and even a myriad of ways you can donate.
Last year my husband and I were blessed with tickets for their annual fundraising gala. During one of the scheduled hours they played a short video telling their story and some of the startling statistics in our county alone. I found myself all dressed up in a puddle of tears. One of my best friends was part of their genesis story and I was so ashamed that I didn’t know more about this issue than I did.
This year The Key2Free had their first annual awareness conference called the 20/20 vision conference. I decided to go because I wanted to see what I could do moving forward to help. When I walked in I immediately felt an enormous surge of hope. It’s a humbling thing to walk into a room full of selfless people. People serving with their own time, dime and talents to love one another through healing. The team did an incredible job; it was done with excellence and attention to detail. They even had the thoughtfulness of providing a prayer room with volunteers who could pray with you if needed.
During the conference there were several different breakouts to choose from. The first one I chose was (Behind the Veil) with one of the original founders Lori Irvin’s. To be honest I wasn’t prepared. I knew that because of my own history of child sexual abuse that it may be a bit triggering. Lori’s main goal was to help us adjust our vision while we dove into the unsettling realities of human trafficking.
Things I learned that shocked me:
Trafficking is seen mostly in schools, churches and online platforms
In Williamson county alone there are 30 “massage” brothels.
The Super Bowl is the largest trafficking event in the United States.
90% of trafficking is perpetuated by a family member.
An even larger number of victims are children from the foster system.
LGBTQIA youth are more vulnerable targets because of being rejected by family, the lack of resources, and religion.
50% of pimps reported in Austin Texas were females.
Misconceptions about trafficking:
That only women & girls can be victims/
WRONGmen & boys are just as trafficked and only 2% come forward.
That traffickers target people they don't know/
WRONGit's usually parents, boyfriends, family and victims who often fear not having a place to live, or they are being manipulated to stay.
This surprised me too; Williamson county is one of the very few counties that has a human trafficking task force team. This team is not large enough, but from the conversations I had in these breakouts I can tell you, they have pretty much devoted their lives to this. I found the size of their team to be extremely discouraging given the fact that.
About 313,000 people are being trafficked in Texas at any given time.
In Texas, Human trafficking is believed highest within the “Texas Triangle”
Out of all 50 states, Texas is number #2 for most trafficked.
This task force team in Williamson County has a trafficking tip line that apparently has led to the rescue of many victims. No tip is too small and you can choose to remain anonymous.
There is also a NATIONAL Human Trafficking hotline: 1(888) 373-7888 or text 233733
Here are some potential signs of trafficking provided by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office:
bruises, lacerations or scars
tattoos indicating money or ownership
usually tired or fatigued
lives in an unstable environment
Avoiding eye contact or social interaction.
Avoiding law enforcement and authority figures
defers to another person before giving information
clothing is inappropriate for weather or they’re behavior is hypersexual
gaps in memory or recalling events
new friends with different lifestyle
much older boyfriend
have been faced with poverty or economic need
multiple devices or social media accounts
lowered self esteem
distracted or depressed
fearful, submissive, tense or paranoid
withdrawn, secluded or isolated
At this point reading this you may be thinking that this doesn’t happen in your town or neighborhood. Well, hold on to your belt because this one is going to hurt some of you. One of the trafficking cases mentioned in Texas was a high school cheerleader who trafficked her own friends. Another was a young girl who thought she met a 16 year old boy on social media, he groomed her for months until one day showing up at her school and convinced her to leave school with him. Try drove about an hour before he handed her off to two men who hit her in the head with a gun and drove her to Oklahoma where she was left in a beautiful unassuming suburban neighborhood with a normal looking family who were already trafficking two other children out of their home. All day men would come and go; it was a year before she was rescued. This is not longer something that just happens in other countries! In fact the United States is leading all other countries for most trafficked. That should terrify you.
These traffickers were doing business in PLAIN SIGHT and NO-ONE noticed.
Towards the end of the conference there was a panel conversation where two survivors were being interviewed. Both of their stories blew me away but ended with so much hope! They have not let their past dictate who they are today in the slightest. One of them is on her way to her masters and will be working as a licensed counselor in social work. The other is now an accountant managing a radio station as well as working on changes in legislation. They shared so many important things, however, what they wanted us to know the most was:
Using the word prostitute at the pulpit is offensive to victims.
Don’t try to change people, you have to love them.
They prefer to be called survivors NOT victims.
Words are powerful. One positive or negative word from us to another person can affect their entire day. Words have the power to inspire, motivate, comfort, and heal. But they can also cause harm, pain, and damage to ourselves and others.
Treat the survivor like a human. Make eye contact, respect them, they are just like anyone else. As one of the survivors said “Look for the pearl in them”.
After the panel, an amazing worship team called Worship Society out of Austin Texas came on stage and in utter raw humility began to worship the Lord. I just sat there in tears, looking around the room seeing all the empty chairs when suddenly I felt the Holy Spirit whisper “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” A weight so heavy just sat tenderly on my chest. I pushed through the sadness, disappointment and brokenness and wrote in my notebook, “It’s a crying shame that every single seat wasn't full in that place.” No condemnation to those who weren’t there; I wasn’t even planning to go until I was sitting at my computer one night and felt like God told me to go. While sitting in the sanctuary full of worship and prayer, I came to the conclusion that people just don't know; this is an evil, IN PLAIN SIGHT, that we just don't see.
The church that hosted this conference is called Rock Pointe Church . As the closing call to action, pastor Shane came up and asked, “What breaks your heart? And what do you intend to do about it?” He said that if you follow that question, it means that you will have to walk away from you….
Jesus said, “Whoever finds (his) life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”. Matthew 10:39 Is an invitation to live selflessly, to SEE THE ONE and BE THE ONE.
If you live in Williamson County and you are looking for someone to talk to you can reach out to Abundant Life Counseling Services at 512-258-5100
If you are looking for Community Services such as respite care, crisis services, family healthcare, mental health and substance use services, early childhood intervention, suicide prevention, etc you can reach out to Bluebonnet Trails Community Services Department at 844-309-6385
If you are a man dealing with porn addiction you can reach out to this incredible ministry called Romans 12:2 hey focus on breaking the cycle of addiction and trauma through faith-based healing and anti-trafficking initiatives. You can even send a text at (512) 426-4064
Lastly, if you are a parent and you have a child in Williamson County; I would HIGHLY suggest that you find a way to have the Georgetown Rotary Club bring their educational trailer to the school for children and parents to experience together. I personally went into that trailer not having a clue about the tools these traffickers use and came out the other side of the trailer with INVALUABLE information. I STRONGLY believe that EVERY parent, grandparent, guardian etc, should attend an event such as this with their children as young as middle school. This could save their lives as well as the lives of their friends and loved ones. For more information call the Georgetown Rotary Club at (512) 913-3743
If you go to TheKey2Free website you can still register to attend the upcoming spring Gala fundraiser and you can ALREADY buy your ticket for next year’s conference, so no excuses.
Lastly I’ll leave you with this prayer: