Holding hands

Human Trafficking is the worst kind of atrocity existing in Columbus, our nation, and world. It is a three-linked chain involving coercion, force, and fraud, and the victims can be of any age, social status, race, gender, or nationality.

It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and more than $30 billion is generated in the United States. Eighty percent of the victims are women and girls. Every 30 seconds someone is being trafficked. The world’s population is 8 billion. Experts report globally there are 30 to 50 million human trafficking victims.

How can this be?  

There has to be more than 50 million human beings trapped in the dark web of human trafficking. The facts are evident: human trafficking statistics are chronically under reported. 

Columbus is not immune – the numbers that are reported do not match. We have women from all over the nation who were brought here.

I would like to make this fact clear: NOT ONE of the human trafficking victims we work with wanted to be a prostitute!

We do not survey them. We love the hell out of them.  We have created a home for them to rest, eat a meal, shower, laugh, talk, and embrace peace and safety.

Come to our Drop-In Center on Sullivant Avenue (managed by my nonprofit 1DivineLine2Health) and it is not at all institutional looking. Prisons, precincts, recovery sites, hospitals, churches, and other sites are institutional, and human trafficking victims are traumatized in those sites.

The 52-unit project being developed by Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and Beacon 360 Management not once considered the stigma it will bring. These are institutional settings. They don’t need congregated settings. They are triggers. The victims of human trafficking do better in a house with individualized care. A site where they can call home, learn to be self-sustainable, and be reinstated into society at their pace.

They need trauma therapy. There’s a longtime need for employers who are understanding and pay fair wages to this vulnerable population. As mentioned, there’s a need for houses and not to be placed in the projects. They need a love tribe and a sense of belonging and accountability to not return to familiar settings.

Where is the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and Beacon 360 Management going to get the victims and survivors? How is the staff going to make sure the place will not attract drug and human traffickers especially on the Westside? I am not opiniated. But what I see is another program capitalizing from the suffering of my street sisters and brothers.

Furthermore, both the CMHA and Beacon 360 Management will be tapping into human trafficking funds that are desperately needed for staff to operate our Drop-In Center on Sullivant Avenue and other safe houses. What looks good on paper is not realistic when the people who are making the decisions are not trench workers but businesspeople securing their salaries. Does this sound like human trafficking?

January 11 has been designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. For the 1DivineLine2Health team our awareness is more than talk, it is direct contact to the victims five to six nights a week. To us they are not prostitutes. They are destitute human beings lacking compassion from local and government officials, and the human trafficking experts. They are someone’s child, parent, grandparent, spouse, relative, and friend. We call them street sisters and brothers.

What do they want? It is a simple answer “to be treated like a human being.”

Working the trenches is not a sexy fad like some say. It is not cool! As the founder of 1DivineLine2Health, it has been both an honor and humiliating experience to work in the trenches. My mind accepts human trafficking in the developing countries but not in America especially in a smart city like Columbus. 2021 was emotionally hard on our street family and me personally. We lost many to opiate overdoses and murder. It’s amazing we are still operating. As of February of this year, 1DivineLine2Health turns 7-years-old and five of those years we have served human trafficking victims, some globally but mostly locally.

We primarily operate on public and private donations. In the past two years we received some city and county funds that allowed us to purchase another red commercial vehicle for our Love Bug Street Outreach. We are the only organization, two to three times a week, weather permitting, in the four epicenters at night providing food, clothes, shoes, hygiene kits, Narcan, wound care, and needle exchange out of the love bugs. We also transport folks to the hospital and recovery sites. I would like to give special thanks to Liz Brown, Mitch Brown, and Emmanuel Remy and their legislative aides for listening and stepping outside their offices and being the first to visit our Drop-In Center on Sullivant Avenue and have an open dialogue about this depravity plaguing primarily the Westside.

In January of 2021 on the Hilltop on Sullivant Avenue, we opened the first full-time Drop-In Center that serves women, their children and transgender folks caught in human trafficking. Operating the Love Drop-In Center with 1.5 staff and volunteers was a large undertaking, collaboration with individuals, grassroots movements, and other nonprofits, was crucial to provide the resources needed.

To receive a small grant from a local funder, we were asked to gather demographics such as age, race, gender to secure our funding. The data on our street sisters and brothers we have gathered was undertaken by the CEO (which is me, Esther Flores), volunteers, and Fatimah Masood, an intern. The frequency was determined by the number of people served at a given night either at the center or during street outreach. At the Love Drop-In Center there is a sign-in sheet either with their birth or street name. During Street Outreach we asked folks for their demographics and religious preference. In addition, we track by zip codes the precious lives we served in the Love Bug Street Outreach and Narcan distribution.

What traditional systems don’t understand is that data mining has a time and place, and they see the benefits of data mining differently than we do. Our team provides an all-inclusive approach as a trauma responsive organization. Human beings come first – before numbers. We meet the immediate need unlike institutional settings that are all intrusive and perpetuate their trauma. Think about it! You have an abscess, and you go to the local emergency room. We NEVER want to be intrusive. Our street families are traumatized and in survival mode. We focus on establishing trust and then worry about the demographics so healing can take place in our presence.

Lastly, our notes and services include wound care such as removing sutures, staples, and cleaning MRSA+ infected wounds also on the streets. We provide them with supplies to minimize infection transmission.

To continue our relationship with our street family after the numbers are gathered, the sign-in sheets and street outreach logs are destroyed. Many folks have warrants and we don’t ask, and we don’t tell. It is so unfortunate they continue to be victimized by perpetrators, prosecutors, persecutors, and law enforcement.  One thing that is certain – in our presence they find safety because, hope, faith, and love is present, and our numbers reflect it.

The full-time Love Drop-In Center, as of January 2021, served 1769 human trafficking victims, 63 children, 24 Transwomen, and 3 Transmen. In 2019 we rented a site for four hours once a week and we served close to 1500 women. The ethnic representation was composed of 68 percent Caucasians, 20 percent African Americans, 8 percent Hispanics, and 4 percent Biracial.

There were 15 unreported rapes since January of 2021. There were three domestic violence cases outside the Drop-In Center. Each time with mace in hand I used my body as a shield to escort the victim into the center and demanded the perpetrator to leave the premises. It is by divine intervention I wasn’t killed. There were 15 pregnant women served, four gave birth and one of the babies was discharged last month from a local Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

All these numbers are alarming. We had human trafficking victims dropped off by Johns from the other three corners to our site. It has become a haven for them. In the summer we had women and men sleeping outside of our porches because of cameras. They were instances women ran to the Drop-In Center being followed by men in cars and pointing at our cameras so the perpetrators would leave them alone. Our Drop-In Center is both a nursing and harms reduction approach which is nonjudgmental. The women know that both of our doors have a safe place sign on it. It has reassured to them no cops are allowed unless there is an emergency.

In 2020 we served 3094 human trafficking victims out of one Love Bug and excluded the men in our numbers. In 2021 we had two love bugs to serve 4063 females, 38 Transwomen, 878 males, 26 Transmen – for a total of 5005 human beings caught in the local commercial sex trade. 95 percent of them considered themselves Christians and the other 5 percent were nonreligious. These numbers also include people served in the homeless camps, abandoned homes, trap houses, and people living out of cars and vans aside from those we already feed on the streets and alleys. They come from all over the US including Hawaii. In the female population 70 percent were Caucasians, 18 percent were African Americans, 5 percent Hispanics, 7 percent biracial. In the male population 50 percent were African Americans, 44 percent Caucasians, 2 percent Hispanics, 3 percent Biracial, and 1 percent Asian. It is important to address most of the homeless Hispanics were Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, the biracial folks were more mixture of other ethnic groups including Middle Easterners, Pacific Islanders and Asians.

The homeless men are not gay, instead they are engaged in survival sex to support their families and substance abuse disorder. They have no safe place to live. Some of them are sex offenders and they respect us. Like the women, men are also being discharged from Jackson Pike Correction Facility at 3am with a black garbage bag to carry their belongings. The recidivism is high because there is no safe discharge plan.

Incarceration is not rehabilitation for our vulnerable population struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Guilt, shame, and rejection and the lack of resources available in nonbanker hours has contributed to our numbers.

The pandemic and propaganda tied to it has increased the fear of congregate settings. We had women raped by both men and women in the shelters that came to our Drop-In Center to shower, rest, and eat a meal.

As a small nonprofit fighting against human and drug trafficking we can never compete with the big nonprofits who have grant writers and receive grandfathered-in grants every year. They estimate and fabricate numbers and are never available after 5pm. The opiate crisis is catastrophic and overloading the trap houses, streets, and alleys with Narcan is not the solution. Our street family only asks for Narcan when it's needed. I have to thank the founder of Harm Reduction Ohio, Dennis Cauchon, and one of his advocates, Suzanne Plymale, who have come to our rescue many times last year when we needed syringe kits and Narcan. Andrea Boxill, a Harm Reduction Director, a friend and colleague, has been a sounding board and a big advocate to increase funding to the frontliners.

We are not considered human trafficking experts because we go against the status quo in that arena. We don’t believe locking people up behind bars with dual diagnosis of mental health and substance abuse disorder is rescuing them. Common sense for frontliners is to meet people where they are at. We serve the human trafficking victims during nonbankers hours when the big nonprofit experts are home relaxing. Unless the experts acknowledge that their recycled strategies are ineffective strategies, they will continue to contribute to the increase of both human trafficking and the fatalities of opiate overdoses.

So we ask you to be open minded this month and support a small nonprofit like 1DivinineLine2Health by donating online to https://1dl2h.org/monthly or one time to eradicate this human atrocity.  

We will be addressing some of the issues in a series about human trafficking and how it is tied to the opiate crisis and enlighten readers and experts that Love is the antidote.

The greatest human trafficking survivor, Jesus who many of my icons like Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman lived by His approach, said, “No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Where are these abolitionists in modern times?