January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, observed on Wednesday, Jan. 11, are intended to raise awareness and provide education on the prevention of human trafficking. ALHI is a proud member and endorser of The Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct.
Faith Robles, a human trafficking survivor; Lori Cohen, CEO of ECPAT-USA, the first U.S.-based nonprofit to work on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children; and Cherstyn Stockwell, founding board member of Dahlia’s Hope, which provides aftercare to survivors of sex trafficking, recently spoke with ALHI president and CEO Michael Dominguez on ALHI’s Beyond the Meeting Room podcast. Here are excerpts. Listen to the full podcast here.
Michael Dominguez: The one thing that I have heard was about your positivity. That’s the one thing that kept coming out is that you have such a positive outlook on life and, can you talk a little bit about what drives that and where that comes from?
Faith Robles: What has helped me over the years to be positive is mainly feeling like I shouldn’t be blaming myself for what I went through. Instead, I remind myself that I am loved, that I can feel appreciated, I can learn how to forgive, and that I’m the only one who has the key towards the healing because nobody else can come and do that for me. I’m the one who drives that and at the same time I would like to mention that I love to help others and that’s what helps me feel like if I help others, I am happy because I know I am changing a life. And I love to inspire others so they can come and help others as well.
Michael: When you were in that situation and times were dark, what kept you going, you know, what drove you in those situations?
Faith: In my darkest moment there was a song by Doug Horley called Faith As Small As a Mustard Seed. It gave me hope and at the same time I would cry and listen to this song and ask God, ‘Just take me to paradise, I no longer want to suffer.’ I didn’t want to give up, but at the same time I felt like I had no choice, right? That’s all I have and I just have to continue. I would say to God, ‘Why did you put me into this position? Can’t you just have my life in a better way and take me to somewhere else, that never happened.’ Instead, I was there for many years, like three and a half years, and that song really inspired me that if you have faith, you can live.
Michael: What advice do you have for people from an awareness standpoint, or what encouragement do you have, to remind them that they can make a difference?
Faith: The first thing would be to educate yourself on how to prevent yourself from being sex trafficked. For example, ECPAT-USA offers trainings for the high school kids and youth. One of the survivors or a team member comes to teach them, and we tell them the red flags, and if they come across for example a trafficker, they will be able to say ‘Oh, I know this because somebody told me about this before.’ Now you have a tool on where to go and ask for help, and at the same time, parents and teachers can have that resource and they can just go to ecpatusa.org and they will be able to find the resources in there.
Michael: We are huge supporters of ECPAT and maybe a good opportunity that we have Lori Cohen talk about ECPAT and the work that you’re doing. Any other advice you want to share?
Lori: One of the reasons we love the training so much is that members of our survivor’s council helped us create the training, so it’s not this theoretical research project, its actually based on the lived experiences of our survivor’s council. I would say if you’re a parent, or guardian, or caregiver, look for changes in your child’s behavior. You know, parents should really trust their instincts. If something seems like there’s a change in the friends they have or the child is changing, or if their schedule is changing… being upfront and creating trust in a positive dialogue is really key to making a space for a child to share what’s happening to them.
Michael: I want to talk a little bit about Dahlia’s Hope because when you talk about having resources and places for people to go as they’re coming out of these situations, I would love for you to share a little bit about Dahlia’s Hope and how that all fits into the picture as well.
Cherstyn Stockwell: One of the goals is just independence and self-reliance. That’s kind of the hope for these survivors is to gain independence and self-reliance. That’s really in a nutshell what Dahlia’s Hope is and if we don’t offer a service, we partner with people who do. It’s going to be life skills training. These girls, some of them don’t know how to make a budget, we’re going to help them, teach them how. We figure out their housing, medical, dental, the basic fundamentals to get them towards independence and self-reliance.
Michael: Faith, you’re lighting a fire under me. I’m not doing enough even though I thought I was doing so much like I’m not even scratching the surface of where we can help and where we can support and its people like you that are going to continue to bring awareness to this and continue to make a difference. Let me ask you, if you have one piece of advice for someone who is intentionally in a traffic situation, what would it be?
Faith: Well, my advice would be just think a little bit on how is your life right now if you’re being trafficked, and just think if that’s what you want to be. And if not, there is help, and you don’t have to stay there because there are nonprofits that are offering services. Like for example, at Dahlia’s Hope, we offer services for survivors and at the same time, I want them to know that you are loved, that you can still be able to get back your own body. Nobody should enslave others, you should be happy. I want you to know that you’re not alone, there are people like myself, like you Michael, who are fighting, who are trying to bring awareness. And if you don’t know where to go, you can always go to the police station and tell them what happened to you. That’s what I did, and I also encourage the law enforcement to do that as well. I know that it’s hard to find yourself in the darkness, and think and feel like nobody loves me, nobody cares about me. I encourage you to have the courage to run away, escape, ask for help, because your life will get better. You will be able to find yourself in the future in a happy place where nobody will control your mind or body at all.
Michael: As a community, as individuals, we can make a difference and we can standup, speak out, and most important be aware. I know the hotel industry as a whole is really taking on this initiative and understanding that as a community we can make a difference. We can help people in those situations get to a place like Faith and get to Dahlia’s Hope so that we can actually get them the help they need and that is my vision and my dream.