Human trafficking and sexual slavery are not just things happening in the movies or in other parts of the world – it is happening all around us.
I first met Denardo Ramos of Rahab’s Daughter
over a year ago at a Barrington Noon Rotary Club meeting. A casual, “What do you do?” led to an education I was not prepared for at that moment.
rescues victims of human trafficking, specifically those in sexual slavery.
Denardo and his wife Sharmila ‘Sam’ Wijeyakumar know the damaging effects of human trafficking and the sex trade too well. Both successful in the software industry, Sam with Liferay
, a company that has been very supportive of Rahab’s Daughter’s
mission, she was a victim of human trafficking and sexual slavery starting when she was just sixteen. After years of sexual slavery, she was able to escape, find family and get her education. While doing an internship from college at a private club in Florida years later, her employer found out about her past and blackmailed her back into the trade. Eventually, she was able to leave for good.
The Sex Trade is BIG BUSINESS, yet most of it happens under the noses of Americans every day completely unnoticed.
A $150 Billion dollar global industry, according to the United Nations, Denardo shared that traffickers make approximately $150,000 per person annually who they have control over. The average trafficker usually has four or five victims working for them, so it is a very lucrative. They use force, drugs, emotional control and many forms of violence, including physical abuse and gang rape to keep their victims from escaping.
Operating in residential as well as urban communities, private residences as well as massage parlors and out of the back of strip clubs, few communities are immune to the sex trade. Even many ‘legitimate’ businesses will offer sexual services, usually performed illegally by someone is being trafficked. Sam shared code words customers or 'Johns' use for describing spas or massage businesses that offer these illegal services. When I typed them online, I found that many reviews on popular directory websites have information visible for all to see about these services. Some even rated the sexual acts they were provided!
The Chicago suburban area accounts for what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates is over 16,000 incidents of sexual trafficking a year. The area is the third largest human trafficking area in the United States. O'Hare & Midway International Airports, make the area a convenient porthole where many victims pass through. Clients also have easy access to come and go, finding whatever they want sexually, no matter the depravity. The City of Chicago and Illinois suburban Congress members have stepped up efforts to reach victims and create awareness around Human Trafficking & Sexual Slavery through a Billboard Campaign they launched at O’Hare Airport & across the Chicago area last year. The campaign helped increase calls from victims to the National Human Trafficking Hotline by 64%, but the need is much greater.
How do traffickers acquire their victims? Denardo explained how traffickers prey on vulnerable individuals and how they expertly groom innocent minors into the trade.
"Aside from runaways and homeless minors, many times they make contact very casually. Sometimes using young victims already under their control to reach out to similarly aged children in public areas like shopping malls. They will pay them a compliment or ask where they get their hair done.” Denardo shared. “They then ask potential victims to text them information via their cell phones, so the trafficker has a way to start a dialogue with them."
Once the communications lines are open, traffickers work hard to create an alliance with the individual. Through supporting them emotionally, they work to separate them from their family and friends, eventually convincing them to meet with them in person. Creating one more potential victim into the sex trade and someone who may potentially be trafficked to other areas of the country.
Denardo and Sam started Rahab’s Daughter
to help rescue these victims. Many are shielded and hard to approach and help. A lot of their time is spent working known areas to try and communicate with victims. They even bring flowers and gifts to strip clubs with notes of love and support to the girls. Denardo, Sam, and volunteers even pose undercover to try and get close.
Once they are able to rescue a victim, many are extremely frightened fearing retribution or worse from their traffickers, if they are found. Rahab’s Daughter
operates shelters for the victims complete with dogs that are trained to protect them. The dogs help give them a sense of security and comfort so they can concentrate on putting their lives back together.
They also help the rescued victims through a process of steps developed to make themselves stronger and independent so they will not fall back into the sex trade. Their operation is faith based, which excludes them from many grants and funding opportunities. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, they have found that the victims need to believe in something bigger than them, in order to successfully recover.
“We are not pushing God on them, but in order for someone to have change happen, they need a belief system to move on and also learn to forgive themselves,” Denardo explained. “A victim needs to forgive herself in order to learn to trust people in the future and eventually have healthy relationships.”
There is also a growing need for help for male victims of Human Trafficking & Sexual Slavery. State and local agencies have reached out to Rahab’s Daughter
for help. Currently, they are not set up to help the boys. They hope to have the resources in the future to take care of them.
The demand is high and resources limited for Rahab’s Daughter
. They have a resale shop on Northwest Highway in Cary, Illinois, where they accept items for resale as well as toiletries, clothing and gift cards to help rehabilitate rescued victims. Sam gave me a tour of the shop and the items they keep on hand there to help the victims.
When a victim is RESCUED they are given a backpack of items to help clean themselves up and change out of whatever they were wearing – it is the first step. Next Rahab’s Daughter
helps with REHABILITATION including helping victims acquire educational certificates or GEDs, find employment and work towards independence. Finally, Rahab’s Daughter
helps with the slow REINTEGRATION of the survivors into sustainable independence.
To learn more about how you can help Rahab’s Daughter click here
Donations can be made at the Resale Store at 181 Northwest Hwy Phone, Cary, Illinois Phone (224) 333-0911